Thursday, October 16, 2008

Barry's books

I'd like to introduce you to "Barry." His nation of origin is Burundi, but he has lived most of his life in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Once, his family returned to Burundi for a short time. They had to flee again in fear of genocide. In all my years as a teacher and writer, I've never met anyone like Barry.

In the camp, he studied English with the enthusiasm of a graduate scholar in linguistics. He speaks with a thick accent, but his vocabulary and sentence structure are amazingly advanced.

Barry showed me the workbooks he used in Tanzania. They are worn, patched, and dirty. They smell heavily of kerosene -- no doubt from the lamp he lit in order to study at night. I can't imagine how they have not caught fire by now. But Barry loves and treasures these books with all his heart.
A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that Barry teach English to the other Burundian men in the complex while he waits for his classes to start at DeKalb Tech. The following week he told me that the teaching had not gone well. "They do not understand adjectives at all," he said sadly.

Barry loves to talk in English. He peppers his conversation with idioms and phrases he has picked up. Two favorites are "try your level best" and "according to . . ." Many of his sentences begin with, "According to . . . " but don't quite follow up as they should. Here are some of Barry's sentences. "According to how we go on the bus, we need to buy tickets." "According to this problem of the missing door, we should not look into the bedroom of our sisters while they sleep."

When I was visiting his family this week, Barry showed me the notebook he always carries. Page after page is filled with beautiful penmanship recording vocabulary words and their definitions. I asked Barry where he had found these words. He said he reads books and writes down every word he does not know. He owns a dictionary where he finds the definition.

Barry's dedication and zeal in the face of obstacles I can only imagine amazes me. He is soft-spoken, kind and loving to his brothers and sisters, a leader and protector in his large family, and eager to learn.

According to me, Barry will go a long way in his new country. He always tries his level best.

1 comment:

Dina said...

Tim and Cathy, I have made your blog a part of my daily reading, when I check my on-line mail. I'm touched to the core...and feel like I'm learning, not just by your examples in giving, but by Barry's zeal to learn....It makes me think of Jesus' words "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Thanks again, for taking the time to share these precious momments...