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18034943_M“No man should travel until he has learned the language of the country he visits. Otherwise, he voluntarily makes himself a great baby, – so helpless and so ridiculous.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote this in his journal in 1833, and we can’t help but think of it once in a while. We happen to agree with the basic tenet of his statement – that when visiting a foreign land, one should know some of the languages. Many of the travelers we know do their part to acquire at least a passing knowledge of the most basic terms: Hello and Goodbye. Please and thank you. How much does this cost? Where is the bathroom?

But it’s during times like these, when world events far beyond our control cause us to be bombarded with images of refugees seeking shelter wherever they can find it, and often very far from home, that it seems justifiable to respectfully disagree with Mr. Emerson.

When people must leave their homeland in a hurry, no matter the catalyst (like devastating weather, uprisings, or famine), they likely don’t have the luxury of learning the language of their new land before they arrive. Their focus must understandably be on gathering whatever essentials and money can be found, and a few mementos if they’re lucky and making it safely from Point A to Point B.

It’s a harder and far more daunting task than many of us realize, to leave one homeland and journey to a new one, nearly empty-handed.

It is during times like these that we must all come together, and find ways to communicate using whatever means necessary – hand signaling and sketching come to mind – until we manage to bridge the divide with words. The words might be awkward, at first, and woefully mispronounced, but they will be the start. Patience and kindness, and empathy and understanding, will go a long way toward making everyone feel at ease in new surroundings. And there will be humanity in these gestures, humanity and hope and a whole lot of love, as refugees find their way to new homes around the world, and kind souls among us rise up and welcome them into the fold with a smile and a promise to help.

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