Languages at Work


            The rain, at the moment, was not lethal. It drummed steadily on the sign that read La Société de transport de Trois-Rivières. I stood under it, darting glances down the road for any sign of a bus. I had been in Trois-Rivières, Québec, for five weeks. I was fairly confident that I had gained enough French during the Explore program to get on the right bus to work that morning. 

            An hour later, I’m desperate. I had been refuted by bus drivers of three different routes that their bus was the wrong one. And there were no other bus routes on that street. Had I read the map wrong? Was my anglophone accent too overbearing? Should I call a taxi? Instead, I followed the forceful recommendations of the previously mentioned bus drivers and wandered across the road to wait.

            When I finally got off the bus, my relief was stifled by my complete bafflement and the twenty minute walk that awaited me before I got to the summer camp at l’île St. Quentin.

            On other days, it would have been a beautiful walk. It was a single lane country road with untamed forest on both sides. On the bridge, one could look down the St. Lawrence River to the place where water met sky. There were no pedestrians.

            But it was grey that day. And as I turned the first bend in the road, the rain turned lethal. It pounded until I could feel the fabric of my socks between my toes. It pounded on until I was lightheaded and not a little dizzy. I checked to make sure my raincoat was still there. It was.

            At that second, I would have been relieved to see either a roof or another pedestrian. But neither was to be found within a mile. I was in such shock by the time I got there, that I barely noticed that all the counsellors and kids spoke French, or that I was attracting longer than normal stares.

            Over the next couple of weeks, things improved. My attempts at conversation sometimes had tragic endings, but at least it was funny. Cooking was interesting, but at least I didn’t starve. And my attempts at finding the correct bus route paid off, or at least until the road was sealed off to traffic.

            There were other moments: when a child chuckled at the joke I made, when I was belting out a camp song whose meaning still eludes me today, when ten kids in the pool were trying to murder me in a splash-a-thon, or when a kid in a car in the next lane waved at me through the bus window. Those moments made my day.

            But every moment, even those less than ideal, made my summer complete. And I’ll never look at a bus the same way again.