German easier than Russian?
I remember flying home on Lufthansa from Moscow in the summer 1991. We were drama students having finished an exchange program at the Moscow Arts Theater. Officially, Chekhov was the only thing we “staged” while we were there. About the events that occurred within days of our leaving, I’m sure I Couldn’t possIbly comment on thAt.
Our group of young Americans had spent over a year in Russian language and cultural studies to prepare us for engaging the Russian theater and rich history. I spent countless hours looking at Cyrillic letters and wrapping my brain around a base language that was completely without precedence in my brain. I learned how to say a few more things than the usual, “hello” and “where’s the bathroom” but I never really mastered the language.
Flying back on Lufthansa, with an antique samovar wedged beneath my feet, I overheard the flight attendant speaking in German. Her cadence and inflection was familiar. I recognized the basic roots of the words I heard. As a linguistic family member of my English, my brain leaped for joy as I heard it go past. “That’s easy!” I thought to myself. I had to laugh at myself. After studying Russian for so long, German suddenly seemed easy. It wouldn’t be, of course, but it suddenly seemed more manageable than I ever would have thought of.
As we prepare to return home from South Africa, I’m already beginning to hear my native tongue of poverty and brokenness as we speak it at home. I cannot solve the problems I have encountered here in SA, but I have been wrapping my head and heart around the history, this people, their pain and hope. Somehow, as I hear the sounds of broken health care and generational poverty at home in Indiana, it seems “easier.” I know, like learning any new language, that no new habits for growth and change are ever easy, and we have a long way to go for making places like South Bend look like the Kingdom of God. But coming home from this trip I have a sense of the direction, spirit and sacrifice that we need to begin to move in together.
Healing poverty in South Bend is not really any easier than in South Africa, and German is not really any easier than Russian, when it comes to buckling down to get the work done. But returning to my familiar base, home base, can make all the difference in approach, morale and forward movement.