Breaking the language barrier! Learning the English language has been an immense personal challenge and, ironically, the reason I have travelled to Lesvos, Greece. The CPT Colombia team created this plan for me to take advantage of my attendance at the Unarmed Civilian Protection/Accompaniment conference in Geneva after which I will be on the Greek island for two months.
From the beginning of this plan, I have been very nervous because for many years learning English has not been an aspiration of mine, but I accepted the team’s proposal to encourage me to better prepare myself to study English. I confess that it is somewhat risky because the truth is my level is very low, especially when it comes to expressing myself. I understand many things when I hear someone speak in English, but I almost never take the risk of speaking.
I wonder if it is an internalized fear? It is possible, because for me it is the language of imperialism, and ever since I was young I have had an aversion to it. But in response to my team’s challenge, I decided to accept. Moving out of our comfort space is one of our routine practices at CPT, and this is not done on a whim or by imposition, but it is an uncomfortable place where we challenge ourselves to recognize our own privileges.
It’s not a long time. Two months is not enough to learn a language in context, but the goal is to take the first step and motivate myself to continue studying. In this task, the Aegean Migrant Solidarity team has been quite supportive and thanks to them it was possible for me to travel to Lesvos.
I feel very privileged to be here. I believe that few people have this opportunity, but I inevitably feel bad when seeing that many people in Lesvos cannot arrive with the freedom of mobility and resources that I did, nor do they have the privileges of staying or leaving within a time period that is your free choice.
I chose to come to Greece, with the privilege of crossing borders “legally,” an issue that is still part of the problem. Immigration walls and barriers—in this case the European ones that have been so controversial in the last 10 years—mainly due to the stigmatization of those who are looking for an opportunity (migrating is not illegal!). Although the Colombian passport is still quite stigmatized, it currently favors a high flow of travelers to this continent. But that is not the underlying issue.
I could never put myself in the place nor can I speak for those who have suffered the barbarity of a prison for wanting to cross a border. I am obviously not living their experiences, but when I arrived here I asked myself many questions and I have tried to understand how it may have felt in different situations.
Language—although it is a cultural treasure—is one of those barriers that still separates us, so I ask myself: What does it feel like not to be able to say what you feel? How do you make yourself understood when you don’t know how to pronounce or understand the language where you are seeking asylum? These days I have felt a deep fear, the words do not come out; it seems as if they had been stripped from me. It is a very strange sensation, and it has not been easy.
In addition to the dispossession caused by wars, inequality, and structural violence, are people also stripped of their voice and their words upon finding a border in their migration route? I insist, I cannot speak for them; but I thought that perhaps this is how one must feel, experiencing the loneliness of not being able to raise your voice, of not being able to communicate, or when deprived of the most vital thing that is shelter, a roof, food, a hug, a conversation.
However in my case, the network of solidarity that is woven across borders has been evident. Here I have met people who have given me their word of support; and I see that they also do it for others, those who seek refuge what they hope for most is a helping hand.
As local partners and acquaintances of the CPT team, Volunteers For Lesvos and No Border Kitchen have supported me as a volunteer while I am trying to improve my English study. I deeply appreciate their acts of solidarity towards me.
As I said previously, European policies have been violent, exclusive and have generated different forms of discrimination. I am not the one to talk about them because I have not experienced it firsthand, nor have I worked in the sector. But one thing is clear, those of us in the world who are weaving networks of solidarity are trying to create common spaces with others who suffer violence. Solidarity is also about trying, even for a second, to put yourself in the place of others, and working toward alternatives for change.
Solidarity is a language that embraces, that is understood with a look, a gesture, a universal language if you will. At CPT we have worked for many years to deepen our relationships through this language; with migrants and refugees, victims of bombings and peasant farming communities: people affected by systemic and structural violence, war, and systems of oppression. That’s why we consider them partners in many parts of the world where we have a presence through a program.
To that extent, we also find networks of support and solidarity that sustain our work across our programs; people and other organizations from different geographies and cultures that allow us to continue believing that it is still possible to speak and practice the language of solidarity.
Finally, solidarity does not ask “why did you come to learn English in Lesvos?” It is only practiced and manifested as “how can we help you?” And that is the main premise with which I hope to learn in these two months of daring to break boundaries.