Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working with refugee kids

I had one of those weird double-take moments today.

I was at the Noble Park English Language School today, where newly arrived migrant kids learn a bit of English before being absorbed by mainstream schools. I was presenting a workshop on manhood and ways of avoiding conflict to a group of boys in their mid-to-late teens. Mostly Afghani, with a few Sri Lankan Tamils, Burmese and assorted others.

A great bunch of guys. But it was one particular fellow, a 16-year old Afghani boy who would have been in Australia for no more than 6 months, who spoke his English with a pretty heavy accent, who caused me extreme double-take. This guy was using words and concepts that I have never heard out of the mouth of an Australian teenager (Australian teenagers are often too busy dropping the f-bomb).

My first question: “It’s good for a man to cry. Do you agree or disagree?”
The group was divided mostly in favour of agree, but my young friend summed it up thusly: “It’s a good cartharsis for you.”

What the…? Cartharsis? Who says that? Certainly not teenage refugees from a country where the previous rulers were so backward they passed a law requiring all men to have beards. But it just got better.

I posed another question to the group: “What might happen if you hit someone, and the police come after you?”

Afghani-genius-boy replied: “They will find a panacea for you.”


Now I ain’t too proud to admit that that’s not a word that I drop casually into conversation, because I only vaguely know what it means. I had to ask him what he meant, because I was sure he couldn’t have actually used that word.

But my man just kept droppin’ knowledge. He then started quoting Shakespeare in order to bolster his argument. Yeah, Shakespeare. I don’t know anyone who quotes Shakespeare. And I don’t think he realised that no-one else among his classmates seemed to know what he was talking about. I can’t remember what the Shakespearean passage was, because I’m basically not smart or cultured enough to know any Shakespeare. Yet here was a teenager attending English language classes who was schooling me on English language and high culture, not to mention the topic which I was presenting as a so-called expert.

I’d met the Afghani Confucius, and he was all of 16.


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