Photo: Flickr / udeyismail

I owe her everything

I am looking at her. She is reading silently; her lips are moving over the words slowly. She has no flow, so there are many breaks. The words are cutting her. She isn’t accustomed to the sharp corners of the language, so she bleeds on contact. She looks up at me and sees me staring. She flushes, all embarrassed and my heart cries. I am in tears. ‘You’re making fun of me,’ she says with a sad smile. I start laughing to make my tears go away. I never tell her how much it bothers me that our roles have changed. She is my mother. She has taught me everything I know about life, and yet now I am her teacher, guiding her across the rough canvas of a language, which I speak fluently. The reason for my sadness is the constant comparison I make.

We went to Somalia last summer, and Mother was blooming. She was so full of life – don’t get me wrong she still is – because she could express herself in the best way possible. She did all the ordering, both on the telephone and in restaurants. Unlike when we’re in Norway, she didn’t need me to speak for her; she was perfectly capable herself. In Somalia there were no breaks. The words fell from her lips like a waterfall, and her level of knowledge wasn’t like the shaky and unsure steps of a newly born baby. In Somali, Mother is confident and independent but in Norway, she is the dependent and almost always needs support, or else she will fall. The other reason why this saddens me is because I can see her hunger to learn. Mother was the best in her class, and the fastest of all the runners in the marathon, yet now she is overrun by her youngest, a 10-year-old. However her hunger to learn the Norwegian language isn’t what saddens me; people’s easy generalizations do.

Everywhere I go I see people crying on about how immigrants are lazy people who only want to be in society and not take part in society. They point out how many years an immigrant has lived in a country, and compare that to the immigrant’s level of fluency in the country’s official language. We’ve lived here for 11 years, but Mother didn’t have time to take care of herself before now. She was busy raising us. See that’s something many people forget; these ‘lazy immigrants’ have responsibilities that take up most of their time. No, it’s not an excuse, and that is why I tell the Somali women around me who are also struggling with the language that reading helps a lot, but it is an explanation. Once you have six children, and your heavy heart is filled with worry and stress, you don’t have that much space for learning.

And I have been so blind. Every time mother yelled at me and my siblings for speaking Norwegian in our home, I thought it was because she either disliked Norwegian or wanted us to not forget our mother tongue, because we only spoke Somali when we were at home. I was wrong. Mother told us and still tells us to stop speaking Norwegian because she doesn’t understand it. This too makes me sad. I don’t want to be a step ahead of the woman who taught me to love and not to seek revenge from the people who have hurt me. I don’t want to be a step ahead of the woman who told me to always give the better to others. Had I two pencils and a friend wanted to borrow one, I would give them the best one. My love for helping people comes from her too. So does my understanding and my strength. If she is weak today, it is because I have taken her strength.

I don’t want her to bleed as she struggles to navigate through the language and that is why I am her teacher. That is why I don’t complain and say I am busy any more when she asks for help with her learning. She was patient with me every time I fell while learning to walk as a baby. Now is my turn to be patient.