Friday, 30 September 2011

N is for Namibia

"So every letter is having two names?"
"Each letter has its name, but also might sound different when it's written in a word. So for example, the letter 'h' is pronounced 'aitch' but in a word, we say 'huh'. For example, 'H' is for 'happy'. 'C' is called 'seeee' but in a word it might be a 'seee' or a 'kuh'. For example, 'Cecilia' or 'cat."
"Ah. This reading is a little strange. But it's nice."

We have a young woman who cleans for us. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but we do. The lure of a wonderfully clean house, and washed and ironed clothes magically appearing in the wardrobe every week, was too much to bear and we cracked. We justify it to ourselves by saying it's job creation, we're nice employers who leave out drinks and snacks as well, but there's always that niggling voice in the back of one's mind saying 'nah, you just don't want to do the ironing.' Fair do. We love not cleaning. We LOVE not cleaning. And we LOVE not ironing. Our weekends are suddenly for us again, and filled more with walks and talks than scrubbing and rubbing.

The young woman's name is Cecilia. She's got a fantastic smile and biceps that any athlete would be proud of (hey, no-one said ironing was easy). One day, I wrote her a note as we left the house earlier than usual for work, passing her on the road just as she came in: "I've left a note" I called, as we drove off, giving me a second to register the look of panic that crossed her face. Next time I saw her, Cecilia said to me "Mefrou Linda, I'm sorry I could not see the note. I left school at the age of 12 to work for my parents. I had to marry when I was 17 so they would not have to support me. I had to leave the house, and marry, with a man. So I cannot read, and cannot write. And it's hard, because if you want to write a text message, it's difficult. I cannot do any other job." Cecilia is 24 and has two children. One is 7 yrs old, the other 1yr. I felt awful that I hadn't thought about the literacy issue when I wrote the note. And I thought, well, we can definitely help. At work, we're not supposed to do 'service delivery', but we're in our own home here.

"Cecilia, we will teach you to read. Every Friday, when we come home from work and you have finished your work, we will sit down for an hour, have some tea and teach you to read and write." "Mefrou Linda, really?!" Cecilia's bright eyes became wide.
"Yes, not a problem. Let's start next week. And please don't call me Mefrou, it makes me feel old! Just call me Linda."
"Ok, Mefrou Linda."

That was three weeks ago, and as I write, Alex is sat with Cecilia at the dining table and she is tracing the alphabet. Alex has gone through the alphabet with her to learn the sounds over the last few weeks, and now Cecilia is starting to read 'c is for cat' and 'd is for Dad'. She's very keen to learn and is picking it up quickly. She does her homework religiously. Alex told her that she would be reading some small books in six week's time if she keeps going like this. Cecilia laughed and replied "Really, you think it is possible? Ah, I will not eat that day!"

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