Rifenburg English 1113-062 December 15, 2011 Absence of English The language I grew up using was English. I used this language for everything. If I needed to grab somebody’s attention, if I was giving a speech, or if I was simply conversing with my friends I used English. However, I had never thought about all the ways in which English helped me. I just simply spoke the language and never thought about the value of it. English truly was a valuable tool in my life that I took for granted. Growing up I had never been exposed to a foreign language. In the eighth grade, a special opportunity was presented to me. My school was offering a French class that would actually take you to France if you passed the course. During the first semester of school the trip was all anyone could talk about. You couldn’t go a week without hearing about the trip that came along with Mrs. Cox’s French course. As the first semester neared its end I enrolled for the class. Not everybody got into the class because there were a limited number of available spots, but I was lucky enough to pass the cut. Mrs. Cox was an elderly lady with a French accent that took the utmost attention to understand. She was near five feet tall with hair as red you’ve ever seen. She seemed so strange at first. Language was the most important thing to her. It seemed as if I had entered into an English course because I could never use slang or mispronounce a word. Proper English was the only thing accepted in her class, but English was not the only language she monitored with an iron fist; she would never allow anyone to speak improper French or English. She was known by all the students to be one of the harshest teachers in the school when it came to grading. Any


missed accent mark or misspelled word would result in a huge loss of points on a test. I could tell quickly that passing this class was not going to be as easy as other courses had been in the past. Mrs. Cox was very strict, but French wasn’t difficult for me to learn. It came to me fairly easily, but like always, I would miss the small things such as the rolling of my tongue for certain words or the strange pronunciation of an “A.” I managed to pass the course with a low A, but I really had to push myself for that one. The summer soon came and French slipped into the afterthoughts of my mind. The only thing I cared about was my new girlfriends and all the fun things we could do together at the water park. When I look back on it, that summer seems to be one of the shortest of them all. Before I knew it, it was July, which meant it was time to pack up and fly to Europe. The flight was long, the food wasn’t great, and I had already seen the movie that was being played – your typical flight. I was underwhelmed when I arrived in Paris. It was dark and gloomy and the Eifel tower was nowhere in sight. All we had to do for the first day was sleep in a low rate hotel. The next day was a little better, but it had one huge downfall. We got to see Le Louvre which holds the most fascinating pieces of jewelry in the world. We also got to explore the Eifel Tower. We rode the three elevators to the top and got to walk around outside. You could literally feel it swaying with the wind. The Eifel Tower is a sight that will forever be embedded in my brain, but I will despise it for the rest of my life because we had to take the stairs down. The elevators were closed due to maintenance when we got to the top, so we had to take over one hundred flights of stairs to get down. After that horrid experience I was ready to get out of Paris. The next city on the list was Rome. I expected Rome to be the highlight of the trip and it fully lived up to its expectations.


Rome was full of sites that amazed me such, as the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Catacombs, and Vatican City. The Catacombs were neat – quite creepy actually. The Pantheon was amusing; the large pillars and the history behind it kept my attention. The Vatican was the nicest church I had ever seen. But the Colosseum will forever stick out in my mind for what happened there. After we were rushed out of the Vatican for some unknown reason, we headed towards the Colosseum. We passed tourist attractions and vendors. We stopped at one and were refused service in a rude manner. The feeling of the entire area had changed. Things just seemed tense. I knew something was wrong as crowds began to fill the streets. People were raging around in unruly fashion. They were holding signs with words that I couldn’t understand and yelling things that I had never heard before. Our group tightened just to stay together and figure out what was going on. I was filled with fear as men were pushing and shoving in the streets. I wondered why the police hadn’t shown yet. I asked my mom questions, but I was simply ignored. She was intent on what the teacher was saying. I had been ignoring her because of all the commotion, but I figured it would be good to listen to what she had to say. We were near the back of the group so it was difficult to hear. The only thing I could make out was “stay together and move quickly!” Thankfully, the crowds were moving toward the Colosseum so we followed along. The parents stood on the outside of the group while the kids were placed in the middle. I saw Mr. Saunders get shoved by one of the locals, but he kept his cool and kept moving with the crowd. We turned a corner and then we could go no further. Finally, I saw some law enforcement. They looked completely different than any cop I had ever seen. They were wearing helmets with shields in front of them and they were holding an immovable line. The block we had turned onto


was shut down. Mrs. Cox knew no other way to go and there was no way we could turn around so we had to stay where we were until things calmed down. After standing for about five minutes, a roar, that could only be matched by something you would hear at a Super Bowl game in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, erupted what seemed to be a half mile down the street. As the people around us heard the roar they began to join in the chants and started yelling along. Men on motorcycles began to file by; one after the other, there seemed to be hundreds. Men in all black filled the rooftops above and the interior of the barrier created by the men with the shields. Long black limousines with overly-tented windows followed behind the motorcycles. As the limousines passed the people grew extremely violent – shoving and punching. I saw multiple people in the front of the crowd throw things into the street, but the projectiles fell far short of the far off black cars. I looked to my right and saw a picture of our President, George Bush, on the front of one man’s shirt. That’s when it hit me. George Bush was in one of those vehicles passing by and I was standing in the middle of an anti-Bush protest. Being an American, was probably not a good thing to be making obvious at the moment. I guess Mrs. Cox had caught on to this also because word was being passed back through our group that we were not to speak English or seem American in any way at all. No English? What was I to do? English had been at my disposal my entire life. I had never been without it. Luckily, I knew a little French and so did some of the people around me. Most of the locals in Italy also spoke French. Unfortunately, my mom had never taken a French course and was just tagging along to see the sights of Europe. She and I had no way of communicating to one another unless we were close enough to whisper. That wasn’t a problem at first, but we got separated. The crowd of people began to disperse after Bush passed by. People


were flipping tables and kicking stands as they left the street. The road didn’t open up as we expected so we had to turn around. I was near the rear of the group, but now, having been turned around, I was one of the leaders. I had no idea where I was going, but we had to go somewhere so I just began to walk. My mind was in a rush and I had completely forgotten that me and my mom should stay very close together. I’m not a multitasker. I’m forgetful of things if I don’t pay close attention to them. Somehow the group and I were separated. The crowd pushed me along. I didn’t want to keep walking, but I knew not to stop and I definitely didn’t want to stand out. The road came to a T and the crowd of people I was mixed in with went left. I wasn’t sure left was the right way, but I had to go. I decided to work my way to the edge of the street where I might be able to get a better look around. I was small at the time, so this wasn’t too hard of a task. I weaved my way in between people and eventually emerged on a sidewalk next to some bread shops. The only reason I knew they were bread shops was because I could recognize the word “pain”, that Mrs. Cox had taught us, across the top of the shop. I looked around for my group, but to no avail. I didn’t know where the group was, but I knew where they were headed. I didn’t know my own way to the Colosseum so I was going to have to ask a local for directions. Thank God Mrs. Cox stressed the basics of French and I remembered how to ask for directions. Hopefully somebody nearby knew French. I figured the bread vendor was my best shot. I walked up to the man and said, “Où est la Colisée de Rome?” with the best French accent I had. The bread vendor gave me an odd look (probably because my accent seemed odd), but then replied with a number of instructions that I couldn’t understand. Luckily, I was able to pick out the street names and follow those. I thanked him with a “merci” and then headed down the street through the crowd.


The streets were littered and filled with people still holding up protest signs. Once again, I had to blend the best I could. It’s strange how people still looked at me. I figured it was the way I was dressed, but it was probably the scared look on my face. Following the vendor’s instructions I was able to find my way to the Colosseum and luckily find the group, but my Mom wasn’t there. She had gone off to look for me. Many of the group members actually got lost. I didn’t know all of the ones that were lost, but I did know that most of them didn’t know a lick of French. It took nearly two hours to gather everybody together. My mom was alright, but some of the others were unfortunate. Two had lost their wallets. Both of them were now without passports or money. One girl about my age had a black eye. She said she got punched. It could have been a lot worse though. We quickly enjoyed the Colosseum and then headed to our hotel. Unfortunately, it was a lot worse for other Americans that were in Rome at the same time as us. We heard from some parents that watched the news that two Americans were hospitalized because they were beaten so badly. They were only a block down from where we were. Sadly, it took a situation as frightening as this one for me to understand the importance of language and Discourse. Communication is vital for people. Had I not been able to communicate with the locals of the area or find my way around the streets of Rome, I could have easily been one of the people who were injured or robbed. Ever since this occurrence I have always valued English and now notice how many things the language does for me. As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you have until you lose it.”