Gelati in hand, for something new, I’m walking briskly down the boulevard today. Then I hear it. The unmistakable sound of someone being taught to read. Regardless of the language, there is something unique in the intonation of a reading session. I turn to my left and there they sit. She with bended head over a picture book. He in a cap and glasses, slowly sounding out. Slowly. I hear her patient tones- dulcet and warm. I don’t slow my pace. I just speed past. 6 metres later however, I turn in hesitation to look back at the duo sitting on the bench. Should I? Inhibition aside I return my steps. Standing in front of them armed with only one big wide smile and my fractured Bulgarian, I tell firstly him, “Bravo. You are reading so well!” Then I turn to her. Her face is all bright with a grandmother’s love and patience. She explains that her 16 year old grandson speaks Spanish and some English but he has relocated to Bulgaria. Now he must learn to read and understand Kirilica. A laboursome process. I know that well. Her wizened index finger points to the little pencil strikes she has placed to mark the accent in each word. Every word, has been painstakingly annotated with the little graphite dashes. She explains her method. It’s a daily ritual often conducted on the main boulevard of Sofia.
I am then asked the regular question… Where are you from? I give the regular answer and tell them a little about myself. Why I am here. What I do in Australia. She nods her head in understanding when I explain my job as a “logoped” / speech and language pathologist. I then find myself talking with her about opera. Her eyes twinkle. She loves the opera. She asks me who my maestra is and nods her head in recognition at my answer. Indeed, 50 years ago she says that she attended a soiree on Ulica Alabin, in some downstairs basement where Nadia Afeyan, my maestra’s mother had a soiree of arias. My heart jumps a beat at the serendipity. There on Boulevard Vitosha, my two worlds coexist.
Sometimes it is difficult switching between 2 careers- Opera and Speech and Language Pathology. The switch is harder to the latter. I’m about to fly home and hit a lull in inspiration, a lull in cognition, a lull in creation. As much as I enjoy therapy and regard it as a noble profession (only noble in the event that one is efficacious), I lose a part of myself when singing is reduced. But maybe this is the point. Maybe we need to lose more of ourselves. I don’t know.
I was often asked on completion of my Masters why I was going back to singing? Wasn’t I now a speech pathologist? Wasn’t that enough? People were puzzled. I wanted to blurt out- “Why are you breathing?” Same question. Same answer.
I leave Sofia in two days, arriving in Melbourne at 9:30pm, I’ll start work some 11 hours later. There I have therapy rooms full of kids who have had no access to an education. Teenagers who had no civil rights and have fled war regions, moving from rural poverty and persecution to urban poverty in affluent Australia. I have a boy, who also is 16, who wants to learn to read. He can’t follow class work but he wants to be an engineer. He wants to go to University and return to Afghanistan and make things “just a little right there”. “Even just a little, would be enough”, he told me once. I have students who can’t converse with their peers. Who shuffle early into class so they don’t have to walk in to a crowded room and fight the pressure of not knowing who to sit next to. “It’s easier if I’m there early, then they have to choose where to go instead”, they tell me. “If I’m late, I am scared. I don’t know where to go.”
Today was a bridge for me. A glimpse into the working life that is on hold, waiting for my return. After seeing this boy with Down Syndrome and his grandmother, therapist and supporter all in one, I am ready to leave. So if you ask me, why am I going home to Australia for now, I will ask you, “Why are you breathing?” For the answer is the same.
They are waiting. They want to learn, as much as I do. God, may I help them, may I make things just a little right. Even just a little, would be enough.
- The Belly of Sofia- Le Ventre de Sofia (msdivageiger.wordpress.com)