A common language

Umme is a student at Senn High School on Chicago’s far north side, known as one of the most international schools in the country. Children from 60 countries, speaking more than 45 languages, attend the school. Umme herself is from Pakistan; she speaks Urdu as well as English. She was recruited to the Memory Bridge project to be buddies with an Indian woman known as Patel, who speaks no English at all, so that they could communicate in their native language.

There was a slight miscalculation, however. Patel does not speak Urdu, she speaks Hindi, which Umme can understand but not speak, and a language called Gujarati. No worries – at each visit, Patel and Umme keep up a lively conversation using a mish-mosh of languages. Patel does not seem to care that Umme is responding to her in a language she doesn’t know. The meaning is less important than the music, the words less important than the familiarity of Umme’s henna-ed hands, black eyes and open heart.

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