WordFood - how we feed or starve our realtionships

- Julia Hubbel

Julia’s ability to get this group of type-A executives to engage in true networking was incredible. She is truly skilled at motivating the group to engage and interact with each other, and her openness and honesty really come through.

— Shelley Stewart, Jr.,
Senior Vice President of Operational Excellence and Chief Procurement Officer, Tyco

March 23, 2016

The Power of Tone of Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 7:04 am

This past weekend, Denver got one of its classic early spring snows. My part of town, which is close to the foothills, was snowing and the roads sheer black ice. I’d signed up to attend an animal communication class which was located fully an hour from my house out on the plains, so I packed up very early, two hours ahead of schedule. However, my world was dangerously icy.

So icy, in fact, that I ended up sliding through a stop sign and slamming into a snowy embankment, hurting my neck and back. I was just lucky that no cross traffic was out that early.

After I got my car out and inched home in the snow, I repeatedly called the school. No answer. I called the instructor twice, and finally reached her. She informed me that according to her, the weather was “brilliant, the roads green,and everyone ELSE was going to be there.” Not only did this completely dismiss my accident, it was shaming.

That annoyed me, and despite being injured I still attempted to make it to class. I took three sheets of instructions, left when the sun finally cleared our roads (about 11 am or so). As it happened, my Google instructions got me lost. At 1 pm I called the school again, no answer. I called the instructor again, no answer. I gave up and went home- and had to lie down. I was in bed all day Sunday.

I requested a cancellation due to the circumstances. I also cancelled a week long program in May. Both programs had a very rigid cancellation policy. What followed was fascinating.

Her partner,  penned me a lengthy email informing me of the instructor’s intention to be kind, how much trouble she went to in order to change the curriculum for me so that I could attend, the fact that EVERYONE ELSE  found it easy to find the location. Identical dunning language. He pointed out that the weather report didn’t indicate snow anywhere (so clearly I had to be making it up). The instructor had called Saturday while I was in bed, so I listened. It was a long, rambling message that again, pointed out, with that treacly condescending tone that one uses with small children and the very old, that EVERYONE ELSE found the location without a problem, that she went to great trouble JUST FOR ME to move the topics around, she held up starting the class for fifteen minutes JUST FOR ME.

This is an instructor who teaches leadership and promotes herself as a coach. In no way did she express compassion, except in the most childish way, for a very real and dangerous situation which caused an accident. What she did express was what little regard she has for a client’s. Foothill neighborhoods have different weather than the plains. People get lost. In her message she went on and on about how I could possibly have ended up in Castle Rock. She said, Elizabeth (where the class was held) is nowhere near Castle Rock. You can hear the message  (STUPID) in her voice. Having lived in Colorado since 1979 I know perfectly well where these towns are- however one wrong turn led me astray. Had someone been available by phone I might have made it.

This delivery made it abundantly clear that the instructor considered my accident ridiculous, my version of weather in my neighborhood a fantasy, and the fact that I got lost simply ludicrous, since everyone else made it just fine.  The partner’s email simply regurgitated the same message that clearly, something was wrong with me.

Tone is body language. It’s far more powerful than words. Tone says what you really mean. Kids get it. Adults are deeply  insulted by it. People who consider themselves true coaches and leadership trainers wouldn’t stoop to using it. Whatever you’re saying becomes toxic with the wrong inflection.  Tone demonstrates your intention, as clearly as if they had shrieked “STUPID” at me. I got the message all right, loud and clear.

I got my refunds, which was appreciated. However, they were delivered like a burrito, wrapped in the same condescension and shaming language as the first conversation. As a result, not only will I never have anything to do with this organization, I will be warning all of my network, which is considerable, not to do business with them.

Tone is intention. Let’s make sure ours isn’t toxic. It can be costly.

March 13, 2016

What WordFood are we feeding our daughters?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 6:49 pm

Having never been a parent, nor ever wanting to be one, the issue of how to raise kids doesn’t usually concern me. However, a couple of recent posts on Facebook got me thinking. One was linked to a New York Times article which pointed out how parents tend to baby their girls and warn them of danger rather than encourage them to be brave. The other was about helicopter parents, who, as George Carlin used to point out, would sue the school of their kid’s foot feel asleep from “just standing around.”

Both pointed to behaviors I find troubling, in part because we are at a point where we need strong women, and strong kids in general. The habit of parents to over coddle and warn kids of imminent danger teaches fear and insecurity. This has far more to do with Mommy and Daddy than the kid. Those of us who grew up on farms with a host of dangers to deal with paid the occasional price for an accident. Being a Baby Boomer, I didn’t wear helmets for any sports, and I got my share of bumps. However, as with any child, that’s part of the price we pay to learn what not to do. With girls in particular, the constant shriek of terror from Mommy every time her adventurous daughter decides to try something new is precisely the wrong message. While I’m not saying that you should let your kid climb the ladder to the roof, why not climb it WITH her and teach her how?

When I left the Army in 1976, I was treated to the beginning of a movie Renaissance with the May opening that year of “Aliens” with Sigourney Weaver. The Lieutenant Ripley character has been my point of reference ever since. A no prisoners, smart, savvy, competent woman who deals with fear, depression, has mothering instincts and shows love, and still takes on the nastiest creature in the Universe. The message that I got out of the movie was that one doesn’t forfeit our womanhood by being brave. If anything, by not learning to be courageous, we teach our girls to be timid, apologetic, fearful and ridiculous.

By ridiculous, I point to every single time I hear some nitwit scream because she sees a roach, a snake, a wasp, a spider, or any creepy crawly. It’s an embarrassment to me personally and it’s an embarrassment to all women in general. It’s not cute to be afraid, the NYT author said, and I totally agree. Life is full of dangers, whether a poisonous snake or an abuser. Without learning courage, our daughters become easy victims.

I would invite all parents who have daughters to start watching your language. Are you feeding your kids fear? Are you teaching timidity? My veteran buddy Grace Tiscareno-Sato has a blind daughter who is an overachiever and she takes school and sports and just about all the world can hand her. Grace has fed her a steady diet of support and encouragement. She has her daughter’s back, rather than trying to protect her. As a result, her daughter is gutsy and brave and against all odds, incredibly self assured.

Watch that you don’t project your own fears onto your kids. Encourage. Challenge. Have their backs. Put a bandaid on the boo boo or a cast on that broken arm. Let the kids learn. Otherwise we cripple them with fear.

June 9, 2015

WordFood of Limitations

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 7:14 pm

“It’s going to take you five hours.”

“Huh. Why?”

“Because you’re a woman and you’re old.”

“Really. Huh.”

We kept driving. My driver, Zaw, is 44. He’s Burmese, a very nice man. However, he has just pronounced me unfit and too old to make a serious hike to see Golden Rock Pagoda, one of the sights we’re driving to see southeast of Yangon, once Rangoon. It’s 108 degrees, at least 98% humidity. I smile at him.

“You should take the truck up the mountain.”

I smile at him again.

We check into my hotel and the hotelier says the same thing. “You should take the truck,” he says. “It’s going to take you at least four and a half, five hours. at least.”

I say to them both, “Three hours. No more.” They both laugh.

Zaw drops me off a few minutes later at the starting point. I have a backpack, water and snacks. It’s a quarter of eleven. I take a photo of my watch right under the starting sign. And head up.

The way is straight up and across a couple of mountains. You walk up a zillion old and rotting stairs, rocks that double as stairs, washed out walkways, through people’s houses where they hawk water and food. It’s hot season. Yeah. It’s hot. My pants flap against my legs, I think my water bottle is leaking. I stop and check. Not leaking. Pure sweat. I sweat oceans. Rivers. Lakes. The sun is brutal.

On the way I pass, and stop to talk, to two guys from Seattle who are gassed out. We play with a puppy. I lose about fifteen minutes. Motor on.

About two hours later I see a Golden Rock on a hill off to my right. There’s a sign in Burmese. Is this it? There’s a monk tending a garden. I hike up. Take pictures. It’s epic, takes me a while. On the way down the monk stops, looks at me and says, with a smile, “You first person do that.” I’ve been punked. That’s funny. Lost another thirty minutes. Thanks a rock.

Scenery changes and views are gorgeous. Moving in and out of shade. Hot doesn’t describe this.

The last two miles are intensely steep concrete road, with incredibly steep hairpin turns I(this is the truck road for the ride down later). It is worse than the mountains. Soon I’m at the gate.

It’s a quarter of two. I photograph my watch with the gates in the background. Three hours on on the nose, notwithstanding two guys from Seattle, the puppy and the Fake Golden Rock. The pace was a two and a half hour pace.

I get down the mountain after enjoying the nice views and breezes. Call my driver at 4 pm, who doesn’t believe me when I tell him I’m already back. The hotel staff validates.

When Zaw and I drove back the next day I told him that it’s not about ego. And it isn’t. People are very happy to lay their version of what you’re capable of on your punkin head. Often based on their limitations. Zaw said he couldn’t do it, so he assumed I couldn’t since I was older and a woman. Now that’s his problem. However, if I am willing to accept that limited ceiling on what I can achieve in life, and assume that this is all I can ever be and do, then shame on me. I love doing things like this if for no other reason than it forces people to rethink their version of reality. And it allows for a gentle discussion about why we set such limitations on others in the first place- or accept them for ourselves.

Next time you hear a limitation being placed on you based on anything, anything at all, challenge it. Where does that come from? Why should I accept it? Is that based on fact or opinion? So often it can be toxic WordFood that we need to discard immediately. Write your own version of yourself, not someone else’s.

Never give someone else permission to limit your possibilities, your greatness, your achievements. You write your version of you.

April 10, 2015

WordFood: Say it NOW

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 11:34 pm

A week ago, a member of my high school class of 1971 passed away unexpectedly due to a heart attack. Brian was much loved, gave a great deal to the community, and much was said about his life and works.

I posted Brian’s photo on my site as well as some strong suggestions about how important it is that we say what needs to be said before we are standing graveside, wishing bitterly our last words hadn’t been in anger, or so humdrum. Wishing we had expressed our love, our admiration, mended the fence.

Well you can. Now. Today. Pick up the damned phone and do it now. Call, text, ping, tweet, IM, and surprise the heck out of someone in your life by saying what needs to be said, the good and caring and wonderful things that people need to hear.

One of the hardest things we will ever say to anyone is “I’m sorry.” Most of us are so addicted to being right that we choke on these words. Yet where it’s possible to reestablish a relationship by apology, in the end it is worth a moment of discomfort (okay, well, deep discomfort) to get someone back in your life. It could be a life changing moment.

People may respond in lots of different ways, but I guarantee you this: three wonderful things are likely to happen. First, when you start popping out kind notes to people in your world, nice things appear. People respond in kind (yes, and some will want to know what you want). You’re sending out delight. Second, when you are spending time here and there sending out nice thoughts, sweet notes and thoughtful tweets, this directly affects your state of mind, your well being and the way you see the world. You experience yourself in a very positive way. Third, by making sure that the people you care about are fed loving WordFood regularly, you know that your last words with them were probably wonderful ones.

Chances are the folks we treasure are going to be with us for a good long while. Even more reason to make sure they know how we feel about them. The joy we engender by expressing our affection and getting over old or perceived hurts is worth it.

Do it now, folks. Let’s use our social media for what it’s meant to do: connect us, bring us together, and solidify our relationships. There isn’t anything else more important.

March 22, 2015

Words Don’t Always Come When We Need Them

Friday the 13th (aptly in this case) I was sitting in my coach’s office feeling extremely hungry and also very tired. I asked if he had something to eat. He offered a banana. One bite later I was tossing it up in his toilet, and about thirty seconds after that, he was kicking me out the door to go to the ER.

After seven hours, a CAT scan, blood work and a whole lot of IV fluids later, I got word from the nurse that while I didn’t exactly have brain damage or was carrying any African nasties in my system as a result of my recent five weeks adventuring around three countries on that continent, I did in fact have post concussion syndrome, if not a full blown concussion. I had to go home and lie down. A lot. No work, no television, no movies, no nothing, for as long as it took for the fog to lift, my balance to return, and the symptoms to lift. If they would.

The second week of my time in Africa I’d hurtled over the Nile River in Class V rapids armed with a safety helmet- however, the boat that pounded me in the face missed the helmet and cracked my cheek instead, giving me a lovely black eye and slamming my head sideways. That was three minutes into our day long trip. That very large raft hit me five more times going down the river, which was actually a lot of fun, full of adrenaline, but also a lot of bruises. I learned two things: first, I prefer kayaking, in which  your boat doesn’t rise up and wallop you on the coconut, and second, I don’t need the ego satisfaction of ever doing that again.

Three days later some very large bushes dragged me off my horse and onto concrete hard clay in a small village in Uganda, I was again helmeted, but I hit head first and I stood, fell again, as much due to the birds taking up residence in my brain pan as the branches littered on the ground. My trip was only half over. I managed on adrenaline til I got home. Then the double vision, the unpredictable anger and irritation, the imbalance began. Anyone who’s ever had a TBI can relate, those who have had several, as I have, really know what I’m talking about here. You know that your faculties-mental, physical, emotional- are compromised, you know they exist, but you can’t access them. They are behind a locked door. It’s intensely frustrating.You aren’t who you were, and you know it.

As a service disabled veteran, I often give seminars and speeches for vets who want to start businesses or sell to big companies. I’ve worked with disabled vets in many contexts. This experience has been in many ways a true gift- no fun, trust me- but as I work my way back to full competence, I’ve had a chance to walk in the boots of men and women who may never have full competence. Whose TBI as a result of their service may have permanently robbed them.  In the past, I may have thought I understood or had empathy. Today, after weeks of having to sleep all day on my couch to let my brain heal, letting days and weeks go by while my brain chooses to repair itself – or not- there is a completely different appreciation of, and love for, those men and women. I’ve been silent for good reason.

My injuries came of my own choice, my own doing. But my experience has given me a very small window into what that life might be like. TBI is serious for anyone who’s had it, but I’m speaking for my family, my veteran family.

Until we’ve had a chance to really understand the price our veterans have paid, we cannot say thank you enough, folks. I say this in particular for my fellow Vietnam vets who failed to get the care they needed when they needed it, and for those coming home now. Let’s pay attention. Because they don’t always have the words when they need them, and now I really do understand why. The words don’t always come because we can’t form them. They’re locked away. Now I know what that means.

March 10, 2015

WordFood of Laughter

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 12:27 pm

Babu gripped me with incredibly strong arms, his brown tinged eyes staring into mine, twinkling with mirth. His misshapen teeth, the only four he had left, showed in a big grin as we laughed at each other. He had just dumped an entire water bottle down the back of my neck, and he was waiting for me to make one last move. I didn’t have one. Ultimately I just hugged him, hard, and he hugged me back. This Maasai ancient and I, along with his three compatriots, had just taken me seven days and six nights across the Tanzanian countryside in 110 degree heat. I was the one who had started the water fight on Day One, and Babu had ended it by emptying the bottle down my back, and there was nothing left but to say goodbye, safe travels and good luck. All done in silence, with a look of love, a huge hug, and a wave. I don’t speak Maasai, Babu doesn’t speak English.Words were completely unnecessary.

The four man crew and the three camels picked up their slow pace and headed back out over the heat-shimmered lands, and my driver headed east towards Arusha. I watched, tears in my eyes, until they were mere specks. I would wake up for at least five more days convinced I was still in my tent, with Raymond  making his famous pancakes to begin the day at 4 am.

Mkuru Camel Safari was my final adventure in five weeks across three countries. Only Philip, the young Maasai man whose first son Christophe was born on day two of our adventure spoke even a bit of English. We traveled through all kinds of terrain, past Maasai bomas and lands, open territories and hills, and across vast lands where wild animals ran free. And always we laughed.

With little language shared, we shared the work. As soon as I sorted out the camp chores I began to help with breakdown and setup. I skipped the nightly showers, so that reduced the workload and gave us more water to drink (and throw at each other in the stifling heat). I used bath wipes at night, and slept with a wet bandanna draped over my body to reduce the temperature.

Early in the morning I woke up with Raymond, snuck up on the sleeping men in their tents, and shook the tents while yelling “ELEPHANT” until they woke up and groggily poked out their heads. The pranks earned me pranks back, and they nailed me with water mercilessly while I was trying to write, eat, rest, sleep or dodge the onslaught. And always we laughed.

One white woman, four African men, minimal language shared. We ate, walked, rode, slept and traveled together, marveled at the stars, chased each other around the campfire, dug acacia thorns out of each other’s skin and enjoyed Raymond’s cooking, teased each other without mercy, and laughed all day.

At the end of it, it was intensely hard to say goodbye so I doused them all with water. Through Philip, the only Maasai with a little English, they thanked me for the laughter, the pranks, and the shared work. I just cried through my smile. Then they threw water at me, and thus doused, we waved goodbye, laughing.

September 29, 2014

The Beneficial WordFood of “NO”

At an all day Diversity & Inclusion Program last week, I met a lovely woman who was having a challenge with her sixteen year old daughter. As their speaker, I was on an hour break, and she  asked me for my thoughts since she knew I was an equestrian. She  wanted to know whether she should buy her daughter  a $50k show horse.

As you can guess, it was far more complex than this. This woman, a secretary, is married to a mechanic. The daughter, who is a fine competitor, has worked her way up in the very elite world of show jumping. She also wants to attend Baylor University. She also hangs out with an elite crowd of rich girls her age for whom a $50k horse is a drop in the bucket.

When pressed, this young mother admitted that the daughter, who, to her credit, had worked hard at the barns to earn her way up til now. But she was starting to make comments about their pedestrian transportation compared to the Beamers and Caddies that her friends drove.

Internally I smiled, and remembered that my dad, at best, earned about $20k a year when I was growing up, and I got a “salary” of $5.25 a week, from which I had to pay for all my horse related goodies. He shouldered the vet bills, shoeing, all costs I couldn’t bear. But I worked from the time I was four years old on my dad’s farm, and from that, learned what money could and couldn’t buy.

We had a good heart to heart about boundaries and limitations, and the toxic nature of the rich crowd this young woman was now hanging out with. At sixteen, there’s no telling where her whims would take her next. My suggestion was to offer her the horse OR Baylor, or suggest that she take on some jobs so that she can pay for one or the other. Otherwise her working class family could well end up with a very expensive horse, a huge college bill  and a daughter off with another new passion. It’s just that age.

We love our kids and want them to do well. But setting realistic boundaries and requiring them to earn what they have forces them to understand how much $50,000 really is. That’s one heck of a lot of money. Not to her friends. And while that may embarrass this sixteen year old, it does require her to take ownership of her real conditions, and not demand that her parents to pay for a lifestyle that is wholly unrealistic. Many competitors have had to patch their breeches to keep going. If that causes her shame, let her work, and bask in the pride that such hard work brings. In this case, “No” is WordFood of the highest kind. It feeds the fire of self sufficiency, of making the kinds of hard choices that come to all of us later in life.  For her rich friends, such material hard choices don’t exist.

This may not seem like such a gift to a kid of sixteen. After all her effort to get where she is as an equestrian, it may feel like a setback. But this is life and it’s full of evaluations and choices.  If we always get what we want, then when we get one of life’s first big NOs we truly aren’t prepared. And as parents, it’s our job to help our young ones learn to deal with disappointments. It’s called character building.

In a case like this, NO has a lot to do with love your child enough, and trusting your gut enough, to do what’s right for the long haul.

September 16, 2014

We Speak With Our Feet

Over the last few years I’ve been taking riding lessons at a place called Cottonwood here in the Denver area. Suffice it to say that Colorado is horse country, and there are a lot of stables. I was referred to this facility through a mutual friend, and for the most part was pretty happy with it.

I say “pretty happy” because there were some drawbacks. On one hand the instructors didn’t stay for long. The other drawback was the owner, who has the unfortunate characteristic of publicly dressing you down if she didn’t like what you were doing. Didn’t matter who you were, how old you were, what you were paying to be there. If she didn’t happen to like something,  she would take out her fury on you at full volume,  treat you as though you had the brains of a caterpillar, and make sure everyone in a mile radius knew about it.

The first time this happened  I was simply appalled. What kind of an owner treats paying customers like this? I later found my sense of humor, wrote it off and got over it. However, I made sure that I stayed out of this woman’s way as much as possible. As my instructors always said, “Tara’s barn, Tara’s rules,” which were capricious at best. Avoidance worked til last Thursday.

This past May I came home from Nepal with girardia, which just got diagnosed.  In addition I’ve been riding bareback saddle pad which was fine on some horses but not on others, whose rougher trot caused me considerable pain and bleeding. Thursday I was both in pain and ill, and I had put on a saddle for the first time this year. I was sliding and slipping and frustrated, in pain and annoyed at myself and my physical condition . In addition my young instructor was nagging at me for the second time that week- for reasons unbeknownst to me. Her horse had died the previous Sunday, she was angry and hurt and no wonder. She was taking it out on me, and the two of us were having a rough day. Not an impossible one, but we were a little short tempered.

Add to this inside the big internal ring, the owner’s habit of riding around and around, back and forth, this way and that, wholly unpredictably, so that not only do I not have a clue where she’s going or what she’s doing I end up stopping completely so that I don’t run into her. She lays into me at full volume, on and on and on and on and ON, without the courtesy of asking what might be the matter. Tara’s dressing me down the way you might a three year old kid who’s smeared food on the wall. I’m at least fifteen years older than she is. I grew up saying Ma’am to my elders. And betters. It’s a spectacle indeed.

A sane person with a modicum of decency might quietly pull us both aside and inquire as to why we were complaining at each other.  While I have compassion for whatever is causing her so much pain she must take her fury out on others, my riding boots and bucks belong elsewhere.

I fired Cottonwood,  and wrote the kind of Yelp review they had coming.  You do not shame, punish and verbally abuse customers. You do not take out your personal damage on clients. Anyone even thinking about Cottonwood should be forewarned.

Our mutual friend argues that Tara is strong. I’ve build women’s networks out of powerful, incredible women. They were also immensely humble, compassionate and gracious. These are the precise characteristics that made them strong.

Emotional maturity is born of our ability to take what life has handed us and turn it into gifts, not grandiosity. Every truly strong woman I know isn’t the least bit arrogant or hateful.

We all have the right to put ourselves into healthy, nurturing environments where we are fed the kind of WordFood that develops us. If you find yourself around someone whose self hatred spills out in toxicity, leave as soon as possible. You cannot do their work for them, but you can improve your quality of life.

September 9, 2014

WordFood You Can’t Consume

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 5:29 pm

As many of us who love the game of football found out on Monday, there is apparently one very large conspiracy going on within the NFL. A cover up about what they, Commissioner Goodell, the judicial system of Atlantic City and the Ravens Nations knew way back in February about the unrelentingly brutal attack that RB Ray Rice perpetrated on his then-fiancee, now wife Janay. For the last two days, along with millions of others, I’ve listened to a great many analysts, read too many columns and heard a lot of mealy-mouthed owners and senior executives  who sound precisely like the Nixon regime back in the Watergate days. The coverup is always worse than the incident, although in this case the incident is pretty awful indeed.

No one who loves the game as much as I do is foolish enough to believe that the supremely talented young men taken off the streets are untainted. As the League continues to recruit from often questionable sources for pure raw talent, it also ends up with what is also a collection of gang members and people of questionable character, a point raised today on the NFL Channel. Well, right now it’s not just the players who are on display. It’s John Harbaugh making a spineless and wholly unbelievable statement to the press, it’s Commissioner Goodell speaking carefully coached statements about when he saw the original video which everyone else but he saw, apparently, before Monday. No one believes him, including me.

Long time beloved and trusted owners are being quoted as trying to hold up Goodell’s choices. In a world of the kind of transparency and access we live in today, the words of all these so called leaders and heroes are so much sawdust. Those of us who did our best to enjoy Monday Night Football double header were overwhelmed by the Ray Rice story, and we still are, because we care about the game, the players and domestic violence. We care about character and honesty and stand up guys.

Unfortunately, nothing the NFL says right now, or going forward, is trustworthy. Nothing that Commissioner Goodell is worth the air it’s taking up. And Harbaugh, who has a teenaged daughter, who said that Rice was such a great guy, should be deeply ashamed.

These people and their worthless WordFood to their legions of fans have let us all down. Now we have to question all our heroes and wonder what happens behind closed doors- what else has the NFL lied about besides concussions and spousal abuse? If the NFL wants us to love them again, they have to regain our trust. Women fans like me, who are as rabid as any beer swilling, tailgate grilling guy in a Broncos parking lot Sunday at noon, we care, we want answers.  Or you can keep your $100 jerseys.

September 1, 2014

WordFood Verstatility in a Diverse Country

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Julia Hubbel @ 5:59 pm

In early August I found myself in the top bunk of a girls’ dorm at the Glenwood Springs Hostel, surrounded by a bevy of females from all over the world. They came from China, Japan, Russia, Croatia, Jamaica, far-flung countries. The hostel owner had actually shut down the place for the summer to board these girls so that they could work and go to school but my reservation had slipped in under the wire. Lucky me, I had a three day kayaking trip planned, and hostels are a lot cheaper than hotels. Besides, what a fascinating group of women.

The days were long and eventful, and as expected I would drag in late. Also as expected (and as warned) the girls were also up late, texting friends back home, and sometimes, as my Russian bunk mate and immediate neighbor would have it, time for loud music. As gently and as politely as I could I asked these women if they would kindly lower their music so that I could sleep as I had a 5 am wakeup call. Begrudgingly, they did. However, when I then thanked them in Russian, they not only burst out in glee, they responded very warmly- and that opened up a different door for us, which we continued the next day at breakfast.

I don’t speak fluent Russian. However I do know a few words. And over my various travels I’ve learned to say hello and thank you and a few other phrases, often complimentary, in a variety of languages ranging from Thai to Korean to Swahili to Vietnamese. As in the scenario at the hostel, I have found that knowing even just a few words  in someone else’s language is such a gift. Whenever I travel I buy a phrasebook, and where possible, I  hire a coach. It’s good to know “where’s the bathroom” to “your country is beautiful” to “I’m injured, I need help.”

For those who don’t travel, we are the host country to many, many immigrants. It behooves us to know Spanish, if nothing else. Mine is workable, as I travel to South America every year. But we also have Sudanese and Vietnamese tribal people and large numbers of others who have come here to make a life. They are part of our culture. Many struggle mightily to learn English.

Today I was standing behind an African woman who was buying a lottery ticket at my local gas station. She turned and looked at me, kindly, and I said to her “Jambo, Mama,” and tipped my head. She looked surprised, then enormously pleased. She spoke to me in her own language, which I did not understand, but the exchange was gracious nonetheless. She is here with her daughter, who does speak English.

It’s hard enough to come to a country and make a life, often having to give up your professional credentials to work at minimum wage to provide for your family. Learning English is tough enough. Many top doctors  make donuts rather than perform brain surgery because the English language is too much. We don’t always appreciate the sacrifices people have to make. A small gesture to learn a word in an immigrant’s language is such a small price to pay to help someone feel welcome in  their new home.

Every time I say kim sa ham ne dah, or “thank you” in Korean to the women who take care of my postal services and my dry cleaning, it is an acknowledgement. It reminds me that I, too have immigrant ancestors who may not have been welcomed. For my part, I’m going to do my best to open my heart and speak welcoming WordFood to the rich cultural gifts that have come and continue to bring variety and color to this great continent.  These wonderful people are constantly reminding me of what I have, and why I value it so much.

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