Sunday, October 14, 2012

Language Lessons

Learning a new language is tough. At least, it is for me. I am constantly in awe of people who speak multiple languages, especially those who do it with apparent ease. As all of my French teachers can attest, I am not naturally gifted with language learning.

Would you like to know another area I'm not particularly gifted in? Teaching. Sure, I do okay when I have a lesson plan and 6-8 elementary aged kids in a Sunday school class. The only reason I can do a passable job there is because I've had a week to prepare in advance.

It occurs to me today that there's much about my work in Hong Kong that I haven't shared with you- about the basic issues surrounding foreign domestic helpers, about the way the migrant community works together, about why it's important that I'm here and everything I'm learning. I haven't shared much of that for several reasons. I don't update my blog that often, and when I do, I don't want to bore you with a novel-length post. Also, I'm still in the early stages of the learning process, even after two months. I'm just now beginning to understand some of the aspects of the work here.

A little background I find important to impart in this particular post: foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) have a contract with the Immigration Department, the Labour Department, and their individual employers. This contract stipulates a number of things, but there are two points I'll focus on today. 1) FDHs are required by law to live in their employer's homes. The contract states that the employer must provide reasonable private accommodations for the employee, but many times that doesn't happen. 2) Employers are required to give FDHs one rest day per week. Usually, this day occurs on Sunday.

At home in the States, or here in Hong Kong, when I have a day off (or sometimes just in the evening after work), I can easily invite my friends to my home. We cook and eat together, we watch tv or listen to music, we sit around and talk. We're pretty much at leisure to do what we want, where we want, when we want. For the most part, FDHs do not enjoy that luxury. They do not have space of their own to spend time with their friends and their time off is strictly dictated by their employers.

My Lonely Planet Hong Kong City Guide describes the Sunday situation like this: "While Indonesians descend on Victoria Park and the Nepalese prefer Tsim Sha Tsui on their one day off a week (usually Sunday), Filipino [FDHs] take over the pavements and public squares of Central. They come in thousands to share food, gossip, play cards, read the Bible and do one another's hair and nails."

By this point, I'm sure you're thinking, "Okay, Grace, what do language learning, teaching, and Sundays have to do with each other and why are you telling me all of this?" That's an excellent question. Here's an answer- I was invited to spend the afternoon with a group of Thai FDHs in Kowloon City today. Once a month, they have English lessons in a primary school building. I unexpectedly found myself teaching a bit of my native language, with no prior preparation, and with increasing respect for my foreign language teachers. As fellow intern Beth and I gave an impromptu lesson on telling time in English, I remembered all those lessons I received on how to tell time in French.

I wrote questions and answers on the board.

Then Beth and I took turns pronouncing them with the Thai ladies.

The Thai ladies were much more grateful than I ever was to be receiving a foreign language lesson. To my extremely patient and very talented teachers- Mme. Thompson, Prof. Fortin, and Dr. Day- thank you for your tolerance and perseverance in trying to teach me something that doesn't come easily to me and for providing inspiration as I seek to instruct others.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Thursday Afternoons at the Shelter

In my life, cookie making is a sacred event. So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to give a baking lesson last week at the shelter.

There's not a lot in life that a warm chocolate chip cookie can't fix, at least for a few seconds while it melts in your mouth.

I was equally delighted when I was approached about another lesson this week.

While waiting for the banana bread to bake, we talked about favorite foods from different regions.

I'm under no illusions that I'm actually teaching anything; more accurately, I'm learning from the wealth of experience and life lessons these women have to teach me. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to know them and share a little of their lives, if only for a few hours while we swap stories of home.