It’s Tuesday again, and we are meeting at our friend Nasima’s home. I arrive with my local Tassie friend, Felicity, and we take off our shoes as Nasima opens the door and warmly welcomes us in. We sit together on brightly coloured Afghan rugs in her sparsely furnished front room, lightly embellished with just a few cushions, a TV and a mirror on the wall. Nasima’s two-year-old daughter sleeps peacefully in the corner as we begin our lesson.
Sameen, another Afghan friend, can’t make it today as her daughter is sick.
Today, we are practicing verbs using the past tense. Nasima slowly works her way through matching flashcards of verbs on the floor, making sentences with each one. She softly offers a “thank you” every time we explain the meaning of an unfamiliar word.
After our lesson, Nasima brings out tea infused with cardamom and Afghan snacks – dried apricots, roasted chickpeas and sunflower seeds. As we sip on tea and work at shelling the sunflower seeds, Nasima describes how happy she is with her progress in English. “Now I can talk with my neighbours and Australian friends,” she remarks happily.
Six months ago, Nasima struggled to make a complete sentence in English. Now we are having simple conversations about our children and our weekend plans.
It has been a privilege to meet weekly with these Afghan women. They cannot attend English courses like their husbands because they must stay at home with their young children. So we come to them. We want to help these women be empowered in their communities, to understand and also be understood by their neighbours and others. But it is for more than a warm feeling or a desire to help these women that I go each week for tea and conversation. I want to show Nasima and the others the love and grace that God has shown me.
When Nasima expressed how much she felt she was improving with her English, I was so proud of her. This quiet, unassuming woman is the same age as me but she has already endured so much more in her life. Having to flee persecution in her war-torn homeland one month after her wedding. Waiting fifteen years in a refugee camp in the Middle East. Never having learned to read and write in her mother tongue. Starting again in a foreign country with four young children.
It has been my joy to visit these women each week and see them slowly, bit by bit, grasp English and feel more at home in Australia.
Kathryn and her family will soon move to South East Asia to serve there long-term.
All names have been changed.