Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Language of Water

It’s raining again today. Although I am not happy running errands or walking my dog in the rain, I understand that this rain is necessary. It’s more than that April showers bring May flowers. It’s that rain - and water - are critical to life. All my cells and their chemical reactions need water to survive. So do those flowers, the bees that pollinate them, and the rabbits that eat them.

This has gotten me thinking about the water cycle and I spent some time this morning pondering where water goes, how long it sticks around, and other related topics. I did some research and found some cool things.

But I have to take a moment to share something else I saw on my way to learning about hydrology. One of my favorite websites is that of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which has often been a source of information for me. The section on Water Science for Schools is terrific and not just for schools. It provides tons of information, charts and graphs that everyone can use. There are games, surveys, and other activities, too.

Today I was especially struck by one of the side panels on the site – the one that lists how many languages the water cycle diagram and summaries are available in. There are over 60 languages listed – with a note that more are coming. They range from Afrikaans and Albanian to Uzbek, Wolof and Zulu (Where the heck do they speak Wolof?)

Okay, I digress. But don’t you think it's interesting that the USGS provides this information in so many languages? Talk about what I learned on the way to learning about the water cycle. I learned that the United States may have its problems, but it still seems to have a mission to educate. We may not always know how to do it effectively but there are plenty of people who are trying. And not just for our own children but for the world. We could paraphrase Emma Lazarus in her poem The New Colossus “ Give me your tired, your poor, your uneducated…”

To paraphrase someone else, “Is this a great country or what?”

And just so you know – according to Wikipedia, Wolof is spoken by 3.2 million ethnic Wolof people in Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania. A quick look at the geography of these countries shows me that they differ greatly in their relationship to water, but I am sure that understanding the water cycle – in any language - is important to all of them.

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