Friday, March 30, 2018

Talkin' Baseball

            The two Syrian men smiled at me from across the table. I was their ESL teacher on this Saturday morning, and they were ready to learn.
            We began with a review of basic conversation; I’d write down the phrases, and they’d repeat them out loud.
“How are you?” / “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?”
“Can I help you with anything?” / “Yes, I need a job.”
            We moved on to verbs (to be, to have) and nouns (desk, table, chair). I am an English teacher, which is not the same thing as an ESL teacher. Many of the regular ESL teachers at this refugee-assistance program were absent on this Saturday morning, as it was also the day of the March for Our Lives. So I was doing my best, and these men were working hard.
            At one point, I decided to write another conversation question on our yellow legal pad. It was a simple query:
“How about those Yankees?”
The men said the words aloud with me, but had no idea what they meant. I wrote down the word: “Baseball.” They pronounced it together: “beis – bol.” I asked them if they enjoy football, or soccer as we call it in the U.S. They said yes, they do. Baseball, I told them, is America’s original sport. Our national pastime.
            I showed them video clips from baseball games, and they were intrigued. We didn’t have time to review all the rules and terms, but I told them to keep an eye out for baseball. And if someone asks them “How about those Yankees?” or, dare I say, “How about those Mets?” I advised them to respond, “I hope they win this year.”
            It’s spring, and this weekend brings us the start of baseball. So dare to dream. Every team is technically in the pennant race as April approaches. It’s the season of opportunity.
            These two Syrian men didn’t know a thing about baseball, but they know a lot about starting over. They’re familiar with new seasons in life. They’ve lived that, for sure.
            We finished our ESL session, and one of the men gathered up the notes we’d written together on the legal pad. He tapped his pencil to the paper. “Baseball,” he said. That’s right, I told him. Baseball.

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