My daughter left this morning for Oklahoma to visit her grandma and her grandma's new rat terrier, with her friend Dylan, the guy in the red shirt. Here they're saying good-bye to Henry, with backpack, and to me the mom taking the picture, who just lent them her car and gave them enough gas money to make it to their first stop, the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ.
I didn't want to embarrass Maya and her friends (and believe me, they would be too!) with exploits of my road trip with my old friend Sally Wilder in the seventies, when we drove from Louisville, KY to Redwood City, CA, but the road was long, the wind fierce and the icy creeks in Utah where we bathed utterly bracing (not to mention we ate all our food before crossing the bridge into Indiana). Despite traveling with a cat and ending up in dorm rooms with strange men, it was a rite of passage that every young person was taking at the time. So Maya, I'll miss you, I'll worry about you, but you're fulfilling your duty as a free spirit and pursuing what's been laid out before you by generations of nineteen and twenty-year-olds, and that, I'm all for.
Mina M., a Persian Jew from Tehran, has been my student for the past eight months; she's always cheerful, always first to class, so it came as a complete surprise when I asked her the other evening what she was going to do after graduation and she burst into tears. We all sat there totally bewildered: what had gotten into Mina, the cheerful one?
Mina's struggled more than other Farsi-speaking students to learn English (married at 17, first baby a year later), but you can't say she hasn't tried, and lately her comprehension has taken off in leaps and bounds. Now when I ask her how she's doing, she's actually able to say, just fine. But she recently found out that if she wants to continue, she'll have to pay a lot of money, which brought on the stream of tears.
What must it be like to make progress in another language— to suddenly comprehend what's going on around you—and then be told to stay home? She complains that no one in her family—three children, two grandchildren and an older husband—will speak to her in English. Los Angeles' Farsi speaking community is the second largest Iranian community outside of Iran (estimated at 500,000 to 600,000 residing mainly in the Pico, Westwood area, dubbed "Tehrangeles"). Mina lives in the middle of it and has no other contacts outside its borders; she doesn't need to speak English to survive, yet these classes have given her a form of independence she hasn't had before— being able to navigate this city on her own.
Last night Mina came to class her old cheerful self. She told me that she's going to ignore the directive from the office, and continue class under the radar. She didn't exactly put it that way, but she did say her English has never been "more better," and so she's not going to stop. She must, she will go on.