I waited behind them in line. Her colorful robe drew no special attention, and their foreign syllables blended with the babble of voices in the busy lobby. In our diverse area, visitors and new residents from all over the world are common.
I recognized the language as Somali and wondered idly if our interpreters had helped this couple at some time.
One of the busy clerks had a heavy Indian accent. Although I hear foreign languages daily, it took me a few moments to set my ear to her accent and understand what she was saying.
And then it happened. First, one clerk took his break. Then another was called to the back office for a phone call. Then the third stepped around the counter to help a customer with a large stack of boxes. That left only the clerk I’d been listening to. With three of the four stations closed, the line grew longer, and impatience began to breed. There was shuffling of feet and mutters about government inefficiency.
At that point, the Somali couple stepped to the counter and tried to explain what they wanted. I could understand their rudimentary English, but the clerk couldn’t follow at all, and her replies must have sounded like gibberish to someone schooled in a proper British accent.
I took a half step forward to help when I realized that the entire room had silenced and was listening.
With much gesticulating, drawing of pictures, and pointing to boxes, the transaction was eventually completed. I was delighted to see people smile and nod to the couple as they walked out past the long line, silently congratulating them on their accomplishment. The babble started again, the three missing countermen returned to their posts, and the line moved.
It was one of those moments where I was proud of my country, proud of my fellow citizens whose patience helped two people take another step into life in the US.