I don’t know what it was that possessed me to take HNUR 101: Elementary Hindi-Urdu I my first semester of college, but it is a class I keep finding myself glad to have taken. Last summer, while working at the Feminist Women’s Health Center, I ran across a patient who spoke basically no English. This was not too infrequent, given that Feminist was based in Atlanta, Georgia but this time our client was Indian and her translator was not available. Luckily, some of what Afroz Ji had tried to teach me had stuck and I was able to greet this woman in Hindi as she awoke from her anesthesia-induced haze. Though Hindi was not her preferred language, her face lit up at my shaky “Namaste” and even shakier attempts at asking how she was feeling. I chalked it up to a fluke, although I was thrilled I’d been able to communicate with this woman.
Flash-forward a year. I am again working in women’s health, although this time in a South African maternity ward. This time I’m the one who can’t understand what’s going on, since most of the patients, nurses, and doctors speak isiZulu. And then, who should walk in through the doors of Admittance but an Indian family, escorted by an Indian doctor who is unsure of how much English the family speaks.
“Namaste,” I manage and I watch as the woman’s face unfolds into that same expression of fantastic surprise. “Namaste!” she stutters back, folding her hands and bowing her head. We come to find out that the couple speak perfect English–they’ve been traveling outside of India for 15 years now because the husband is a Hindu priest. He works at the Temple here in Ladysmith (I believe the Lord Vishnu Temple, which is known for its statue honoring Mahatma Gandhi) and has invited me to come by for a service or two. He started giving me directions and then offered to just pick us up since the Temple is a bit far on foot. I’m hoping to go this coming week, but if not then definitely sometime soon. Stay tuned!