Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Now It's Water in Conversation

First, I wrote about water in reading, then in music. Today, it will be water in conversation because of a conversation I had today.

This conversation took place at the Kenosha Literacy Center where I volunteer in a tutoring program. In my teaching, I often use illustrations to encourage the students to speak English rather than their native language. This afternoon, I was working with two Mexican women, both in their early forties. They both women read, write and comprehend English fairly well, but their conversational skills are lacking. The only place they speak English is at the center because as one of them told me, the people in their family who do speak English outside the house have no patience to speak English to them at home.

The pictures I used today had to do with rooms in the house and what you do in those rooms. One picture of a bathroom showed a man taking a shower. Another showed a woman luxuriating in a deep bath tub. We talked about what the people were doing using words like showering, bathing, washing, soap, towel and so forth.

“Do you like to take a shower or a bath?” I asked, looking for conversation.

“No bath,” said one. The other nodded her head.

“You like a shower better?” I asked.

“Shower, yes, but not this shower. Not like this.”

I was puzzled. Did I not understand? These women were both well groomed and had impeccable hygiene, but they went on to explain in their broken English that in Mexico they do not stand under a shower. One laughed and said “with a cup” and demonstrated by tilting an imaginary cup over her head. She then searched for a word and I suggested the word she wanted was “rinse”. Yes, that was it. They rinse off from water in a cup.

They went on to tell me how in Mexico they save rainwater, including cooking water, which is then used for plants. They giggled when talking about how they save water when using when the toilet. They clearly know about water conservation better than I do. They have always been careful with water using techniques that conservationist are now trying to teach the American public.

I felt very American during that conversation and more than a little guilty. Sure I have stopped running water when I brush my teeth but as I have said many times before, I can’t stop myself from standing too long under the shower. I left my tutoring session thinking more about water than language and realizing that as so often happens, the teacher had learned something from her students.

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