The Things That Transcend Language
Note from Lizzie: May I introduce you to my daughter Sylvia? Below is the college admission essay that Sylvia, a senior in high school, wrote for the Common Application. Yesterday, upon acceptance to one of the schools she’d applied to, the Director of Admissions wrote her a personal note telling her that this was the finest admission essay she’d ever read about an international mission trip. I am proud of my daughter and wanted to share her essay….
The children’s shrill cries of "Mzungu! Mzungu!" followed me through the dusty streets of Lusaka. As I toured the city on my first day in Zambia, I drowned in the sights, smells, and sounds. It was a country of children. I looked to my left and saw a child of six or seven sitting cross-legged, silently chipping away bits of rock from a boulder twice his size, adding to the slowly growing pile of gravel at his feet. To my left I saw several young girls running through the clouds of dust kicked up by passing cars, adult authority nowhere in sight. I was in Zambia to serve the children of an AIDS-devastated region, but I suddenly felt alien and helpless. In a place so foreign, I knew that to make even a small difference, I would have to find those things that transcend language.
It began with dignity. On that same day the minister of the local church, in an effort to welcome the American mission team, invited us into his home. It was about 14′ by 18′–and built of cinder blocks and asbestos. It lacked running water and electricity, but there was no denying the immense pride he felt in what he had invested two years of his life to build.
It continued with humiliation. Ten-year-old James entered the mission campground with bright eyes that sparkled with intelligence. The only child among my charges who spoke English, James was bright, fun-loving, and outspoken. I was surprised one day to find him sitting dejectedly by himself, digging his bare heels into the dust. After sitting next to him in silence for several minutes, I asked him what was wrong. He said nothing–merely kicked a dilapidated boot in disgust. I later found out that one of the other children had been mocking him for the shameful state of his shoes. It would be the lack of decent shoes that would also keep James from joining his luckier peers at the local school.
And, finally, there was affection. Every morning, upon our arrival at the camp, a tidal wave of children would flood our bus. The cries of "Teachah! Teachah!" echoed through the grounds, and excited, joyful arms were flung around my neck. I would look down and see Evaline and Eliza, two girls in my class, reaching up at me with pleading eyes, each fighting with the other for her turn to be held by the teacher. I thought of the lessons I had painstakingly prepared for this week, and I laughed to think that these little girls needed nothing more than to be close to me–and to pour out their affection.
Dignity transcends language. Humiliation carries with it a cry far deeper than language. Affection needs no language. These are the things I traveled five thousand miles from home last summer to learn.