Warrior's Quill

The Author Blog of Ethan E. Harris

Appreciating Speakin’ Skills

Some people have talents that are not always so visible. I have surfed, but it’s not a particular talent. It was only once and it was a nightmare. Stuck in the waves far from the Oahu shore on an enormous surfboard, I really had no idea what I was doing and I paid the consequences.

But some people have talents and abilities which do not seem to go along with their appearance or the cultural expectations imposed on them. It is that skill set which is often overwhelmingly powerful to behold.

I was in Cairo, Egypt a few years ago. I walked into a Persian rug shop to see what all the fuss was about. I saw some very expensive rugs in all shapes and sizes with intricate designs and extremely high price tags. Those rugs were made right there, or so they said. Being a person of high curiosity, I walked outside, down the alley and right through the door that likely, in Arabic, said KEEP OUT. But of course, since I’m a multilingual illiterate (can’t read or write in many languages), I went right in.

The room was lined with rugs against every wall. Wooden looms held the rugs. In front of every rug was a bench lower than knee-high. On every bench sat a young child of no more than 13 years old. I walked along one side of the room to the far wall and stopped behind one little girl. In one hand she held a razor blade and in the other, she held a needle. Attached to the needle was a thread that wound down by her feet, originating from a spool under the small bench. Her hands were a blur as she tied knot after knot into the fabric by the wall. Tie, cut, tie, cut. Faster than I could see. After a minute or so, she stopped, leaving a frayed, blurred pattern. I could make out some of the edges, but it was a little like looking through a mist.

She reached down and grabbed a long bar attached across the width of the loom. It was an even longer razor than the one she held in her left hand. She moved it from the bottom of the rug, slicing off the furry part of the rug. It must have taken off about half of the thread pointing out. It shaved off so much and cut so close to the backing, the pattern simply exploded into view.

“How does she know the pattern?” I said to another guy that followed me into the room. The little girl turned, looked up at me and said “Oh, it’s easy. We have a pattern underneath the bench.”

I said, “You speak English!” It sounded like a question. She said, “Yes, we all speak Arabic, French and English.”

She went on to explain how she tied the knots, how many knots made a good rug and she also told me about how she went to morning school and worked in the shop only in the afternoon.

Talk about underestimating someone!

Since that moment, I have had a strong respect for anyone that can speak more than one language. I have tried my hand at languages, but I’ve never been able to go from a general comprehension to unconscious competence.

So here’s to all those, like my sister-in-law’s husband, whose ability to process languages are so fluid and appreciated. (And if you have a friend with those skills, you may know that extra assurance that you’ll always get the best item off the menu at some really good restaurants.)


Like Tom Hanks’ character in Saving Private Ryan,

certain memories are only for ourselves,

but some should be shared.


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This entry was posted on July 6, 2012 by in Language and tagged , , , , , .
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