Raquel Ferreira

Fonction : Communication officer

Organisation : Centre d'Information pour Jeunes / Eurodesk Luxembourg

Témoignage : So I am walking the streets of a to-be-discovered city center, amazed by the peculiar pink architecture and the beauty of linguistic landscapes - meaning not understanding a single letter of an interesting alphabet -, and I'm observing people, colourful buses and fruit around at the many street markets ... when my digestive system decides to claim my unattended attention.

I ask the first people I can find whether there is a public toilet around. Nothing better than a couple of gentle policemen with quite odd caps (at this point I'm still able to observe uniforms and notice different details of the new environment) and a mixture of different WC terminology and their accents, to create in me a feeling of desperation.

200m further on, I repeat the same gestures to a kind elderly lady. Luckily the answer is rather empathetic and decodable: 'Park'.

Off I go, following more my instinct and the compass of my sense of emergency than any kind of map, and adding a praying gesture to the face code sent to the lady in the booth downstairs, - at the suggested oasis. Thanks to her equally prompt handy orientation, I arrive in time. Aaahh!!! ...

A couple of minutes later, I notice the presence of someone on the other side of the wall giving away to the next toilet. Normal, just like any coexistence in public restrooms. Until 'the presence' decides to break the silence, saying something in Armenian, or whatever language I can't really make sense of. 'No! - I think - Did I overlook a supposed fee in the rush of the moment?'

As a mixture of anxiety and helplessness suddenly takes hold of my thoughts, the words get louder and angrier. All I can guess is a question mark - she is definitely asking something. My worries get confirmed as she gets out and tries to open the right and thus my door.

'Oh no' - I think - 'they're coming after me'. And as I start to picture the sirens arriving and a walk of shame (leading my first day in Armenia to the first time in jail), her tone becomes increasingly intelligible and mad.

'I'm sorry' - I say - 'I don't understand', I'm coming out soon, I'm sorry'... reaching the limit between tears and regret regarding my physiological needs. She then starts knocking on the wall between us, putting her hand on the top of my booth. Her sign is something like a scratch from her thumb to the edge of her fingers, with her hand slightly bent, again reinforcing my speculations about a fee. But as my eyes cross the only currency of exchange at that moment, the actual translation suddenly hits me: toilet paper!

The mystery gets fully solved as she grabs and knocks back a few minutes later, repeating the previous gesture. And so I repeat mine, with an even more generous amount. Communication is being silently and beautifully built.

Moral of the tale: It is not before a toilet emergency that you realize that you not only speak the local language, but also the local sign language!

And this was just the kick-start of a memory-full week in Armenia in June 2017.

Though in the form of a short tale, this story is a little sample of the huge impact that a short time can have on us. This project in Armenia, - besides providing amazing insights into issues related to a minority community, raising awareness of and supporting initiatives regarding the protection of human rights, it was a great opportunity for truly experiencing and not only hypothesizing about intercultural communication and it was certainly one of those opportunities where you feel that you've spent a month within the space of a week - or even more. Those are the memories and bonds that genuinely last a lifetime.

 

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