During my first Italian class in Sorrento, I had one classmate, a Japanese woman my daughter’s age who spoke very little English. And because I spoke no Japanese, we communicated entirely in Italian for two weeks. Wakana was friendly and fun, and our teacher, Elena, guided us through conversations about topics I would not have thought possible to discuss considering our limited language skills.
But we did. I learned about the annual ceremony in her town in which the local god statue is taken from the temple and washed in the ocean. She learned about my town’s annual Irrigation Festival, and when she didn’t recognize the Italian word irrigazione, I explained with a combination of words and charades, about digging ditches from a river to make small rivers to water the farms. We talked about the men in our lives, our reasons for studying Italian, and personal goals. She was interested in architecture and design. I was writing a novel.
Our classes met in the morning, and we had most afternoons free, so during our second week we launched out into some sightseeing together. The February rain didn’t hinder us from taking in Positano with our teacher, riding the public bus around the hair-raising cantilevered roadway hanging off the cliffs of the Amalfi coast. The next day, Wakana, Vern, and I went to Pompeii together on the train. With no teacher to provide language mediation, we did the best we could in Italian, and I provided English translations to Vern as needed.
Then, as we wandered toward the Villa of the Mysteries, we passed near a Japanese tour group with a guide. We paused at a little distance as Wakana listened with interest. When they moved on, she turned to me and gave me what she could of the spiel, in Italian. I took that and shared it with Vern in English. We kept near enough to hear more about Pompeii for the next half-hour or so, in our own touristic version of the old parlor game of “Gossip”.
A couple of days later, Vern and I headed off in a rented car, and we heard no more from Wakana–until about two years ago, when I received her ‘friend’ request on Facebook. We exchanged comments occasionally, and this spring, she contacted me. She was coming to the Seattle area to take some art glass classes, and asked for help finding a place to stay for six weeks between two classes. So this month, she is at my house. We are sightseeing together again–this time on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. This time, we are speaking in English, and she is learning new verb forms and idioms, and seeing the irrigation ditches for herself.
I love living in a time and place where these connections can be made in the first place, and kept alive with ease thanks to technology. Do you have a small world story to share? I’d love to hear about it in your comments!