Snapshots From A
By Theodore Richards
I once taught adult literacy in rural Zimbabwe. One woman came to every class who was so old she didn’t know her age or birth date, so old she’d raised children and grandchildren and great grandchildren on what she could grow in the parched earth, the land that the British gave her grandmothers when they’d stolen the fertile land. She’d never held a pencil. I don’t recall her name, but I know it began with a C, because that was as far as she ever got: every day, she sat on the ground, practicing her crooked Cs, wrinkled like her skin, while I contemplated the absurdity of having flown halfway around the planet, a 25 year old with liberal arts degree, to teach this woman, who must have had more wisdom in her crooked Cs than in my alphabet of credentials.
I once volunteered at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, where street children with disabilities of various kinds were housed and taught. They came with missing and disfigured limbs, broken bodies and minds. Lice was rampant, so my job was to hold the confused and terrified children down while the nuns shaved their heads. One day, Fergy, the Duchess of York, arrived for a visit. I watched the nuns line up now, like the children lining up to have their heads shaved (but giddy with excitement rather than scared), as she smiled and posed for photos with the bald and broken children.
I once visited a temple in Tibet where children stood outside, playing homemade instruments for pilgrims and tourists. They knew only one word in English: please. There is nothing unusual about this. It could be in Johannesburg or Naples or Rio: The language of commerce and begging is the same worldwide.
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