Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm King (or Queen) of the World!

Several years ago one of my staff members, “Khadija,” came to me to ask a favor. One of the local Somali elders very much wanted to take our Basic English classes, but, even though the cost was as low as we could keep it, it was still out of his reach.

She brought him in to the office and we went to the conference room to talk. He was a tall, gaunt, white-haired man who carried himself with great dignity and looked very somber.

Khadija translated as he told me how much he wanted to learn English for himself, for his family and as an example to the community, but he simply couldn’t afford the cost. Without English, he couldn’t get a job.

To be honest, I’d decided from the moment Khadija mentioned it to me that I’d do my best to say yes. She had never asked for anything like that before; this clearly was important to her.

But how to sell it to my boss? As soon as the gentleman mentioned “an example to the community,” I had the answer. He’d end up serving as a goodwill ambassador for our program by encouraging other paying students to come.

So I said yes. That needed no translation. Immediately his face broke into a smile as he clapped his hands and searched for some English words to tell me how much this meant to him.

“Thank you,” he said. “You are...you are...you are king of the world.”

Khadija gently corrected him. “Queen,” she said. “She’s a queen.”

“King,” he persisted. “King more than queen.”

Khadija leaned over (why, I don’t know) and in Somali explained the difference. “Queen,” he repeated nodding. “Queen. You are queen of the world."