The Reluctant Teacher

My crazy Italian life continues…

The Reluctant Teacher

Willie, originally from Peru, sits on my left. He has been in Italy for ten years and wants to learn English. Samba, a refugee from Mali, sits on my right. He speaks a kind of French dialect and he’s here to learn Italian.
I volunteer twice a week in the makeshift tutoring laboratory under the church in Poggio Alla Croce. Fifteen students are here on this cold afternoon in December. There are seven other volunteers; five retired Italians from the village, a German visitor and a young unemployed chef.
I can manage everyday conversations in Italian but my written work, if I’m being vain, is the equivalent of a rather slow-witted nine-year-old. However, my friends need my help so I’ve been tutoring for the past two months.
Today my goal is to stop being in the middle and enlist Willie to help Samba with his Italian while giving Willie the assistance he wants in English. Willie writes out his questions, one at a time, in Italian. I can use these questions to help Samba.
Dove sei nato? (Where were you born?)
Quand’è il tuo compleanno? (When is your birthday?)
Quanti anni hai? (How old are you?)
Sei sposato? o da solo? (are you married? or single?)
Qual è il tuo numero di telefono? (what is your phone number?)

Maybe Willie plans to meet English speaking single women. Samba can learn to use these questions to meet Italian young ladies. This would be an unexpected, but pleasant, result of today’s session.
The door opens and in comes Gabriele, carrying a platter of homemade schiacciata.
He presents three different kinds: plain, with oil and salt, tomato, and another with eggplant.
Willie makes a beeline for the bread while Samba is reluctant to dig in. He tells me, doppo. (later) Samba does not like Italian food except for “macaroni”. I try to explain how schiacciata is different than the usual Tuscan bread because it has oil and salt.
Samba and I have no common language except Italian. He doesn’t know the Italian word melanzana (eggplant) so I struggle to remember the word in French. After what seems a long time, I remember aubergine and Samba’s eyes light up. He reaches for one of the last slices. We continue with our lesson.
Samba turns to me and asks, in English, “How old are you?”

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