November 23, 2007
by Wynn Putnam
Age seven at the time
When I was almost eight years old, my family emigrated from Holland to Ontario, Canada. We spoke only Dutch, so when we went to school in Ontario, the teacher put my twin sister, me, and my two older sisters all in grade one. Once we learned how to speak English they would reevaluate us to see if my twin and I should really be in Grade three, and my older sisters in Grades four and six.
This was a one-room school house so we felt awkward and big sitting in the grade one row while kids our own size sat on the other side of the room and at the back. When the older, bigger kids would point and snicker at us we did not know what they were saying so we smiled at them. We wanted to learn to speak English, and be able to join in with their fun and sit with them.
This was a country schoolhouse, so everyone brought their lunch. At noon we followed the other Grade Ones, got our lunch bags from the hall, and started to eat. But one day when we went to get our lunch bags, a couple of the bigger kids went in front of us and grabbed them. They looked in our bags, ate what they liked, then tossed the bags into the garbage.
My sister and I went back to the classroom and tried to communicate to the teacher that these kids had taken our lunch. We could not say what had happened, and she thought that we did not have a lunch that day. Apparently a kid at the back said that we had already eaten our lunch and some other kids laughed. We started to point at the kids who had taken our lunch and made gestures with our hands, when the teacher took an apple out of her own bag and started to cut it in half. We shook our heads and started to cry. All of a sudden a few of the younger children came over to our desk and gave us some of their lunch, a cookie, an orange -- I can’t remember exactly, but they wanted to share. We stopped crying, smiled, and told each other in Dutch that the foods we were now being given were delicious, even better than what had been in our lunch bag. We communicated our thanks to these kids by smiling and making gestures of what we were trying to say.
For the next while we put our lunch bags in our desks, because it took quite a bit more time before we could speak English well enough to tattle on the few kids who tormented us because we spoke a different language. Most kids in the class tried to help us belong, even when they could see how big we looked in the grade one row, and that we talked in a strange language.
Smiling faces are the same in every language, and it’s easy to communicate with other kids that way and join in their fun. Kids like to sit with you when your face shows a friendly smile -- even if you cannot speak their language, they understand.