On Saturday morning, after a nice breakfast presided over by the number one cook, we headed to SOLA for Judy’s presentation about Chinese New Year which is next week. Judy had prepared a wonderful slide show and one of the SOLA students had recruited some 20 students to come to the lecture.

Laura and I sat on the side and learned as much about Chinese New Year as the girls. Judy’s main point was that you cannot learn a language outside its cultural context. Maybe that explains why my efforts over the years to learn languages such as Chinese and Japanese have not been very successful.

The girls concluded that the customs of Chinese New Year are not that different from New Year in Afghanistan: there are new clothes, gifts of money, family dinners and visits.

Judy had sprinkled Chinese words throughout her presentation, explaining the meaning of the characters and showing how to pronounce them. In unison the girls recited after her.

Judy explained the lunar calendar with a chart of the phases of the moon. I thought of how excited Faro would have been to see that. She also showed the animals of the lunar calendar and had covered the pig with a smiley face, recognizing that the animal is taboo here.

The girls learned that next year we enter the year of the horse. One girl had obviously studied the topic before the class and was able to explain why the Chinese use animals for their years. Consequently I learned a few new things as well.

After class Judy had to write every girl’s first and last name in Chinese characters. They proudly showed their papers to everyone who’d care to look while wishing each other a happy day or happy new year in Chinese. It was priceless. I will return next week for a class about culture. It will be Chinese New Year then and I will find out how much they remember.

The rest of the day was spent preparing for a corporate initiative that includes a workshop on becoming a learning organization.

At dinner I found three new guests had arrived: one colleague from MSH/Arlington who had only recently been evacuated from South Sudan, we’ll call him the hotspot guy; another from Holland so I can practice my Dutch and the third, on crutches like me, a woman whom I had met 8 years ago in Kabul when Sita and I facilitated the regional conference on Infectious Diseases.

Now, when we sit down for dinner or breakfast, the table is full and many more stories just flew in.

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