The Always Evolving and Partially Unwritten Five-Year Plan

Met a Nice Iranian Man in the Elevator…

The other day in our condo, I met an Iranian man in the elevator and had a very interesting exchange with him but one that was severely limited by our language barrier. As I stepped into the lobby elevator (with him already inside) just as the doors were closing, the “conversation” went something like this:

(IM = Iranian Man, DM = Me)

DM: (noticing that the button for the 28th floor had already been pushed) “Hi, how are you….Do you live on 28, too?”

IM: (noticing that I was not pushing any buttons) “Twen-tee-eight…you?”

DM: “Yes, yes…twenty eight, thank you. You, too huh? Have you lived here long?”

IM: (confused but polite smile)

Pause

DM: (trying to make friendly small talk, but slower now) “How long have you lived here?”

IM: (nod and partial smile…then a pause) “Where from?”

DM: (realizing we are struggling to communicate) “The US…how about you?”

IM: “Eee-rahn” (we exchanged awkward smiles as we both realized our countries were not the best of friends, and there was little we could do to communicate, but we weren’t ready to be enemies just yet)

DM: (mumbling something about our governments, smiling and trying to make light of the fact that we’re both taught to be suspicious of the other)

IM: (confused and awkward smile)

More pause…

IM: (motioning toward my attire coming from soccer practice and trying desperately to change the subject) “Sport?”

DM: “Oh…yes, sport. Um…I’m a soccer coach at the international school.”

IM: (Blank stare)

DM: (I try to point to the logo on my coaching polo): “Coach…soccer”

Nothing.

“Umm…football”

IM: (smiling ear to ear) “Ohhhhhh, futbol….! Good!”

More pause…

Ding of the elevator reaching the 28th floor…we smile and walk out in separate directions to our units.

IM: “Good night.”

DM: “Thank you, good night.”

And so two strangers meet, neither of whom speak the other’s language (although he knew FAR more of my language than I did of his), and who are supposed to distrust one another but connect in a short elevator ride thanks to sports. Soccer, specifically (or futbol). I was struck by the friendliness of the man from Iran and his effort to communicate in my language despite how awkward it must have felt for him. I have never “spoken” with him since, but I know he lives down the hall with his wife and 2 or 3 kids and that he must be here in KL because of an opportunity to work that is better than whatever he had at home. It reminded me of another recent friendly experience I had with several locals, during which I realized as people of different cultures, languages and beliefs from all over the world…we’re not all that different. We all want to pursue our goals and dreams, provide a comfortable life for our families and feel like we have left some sort of legacy at the end of it all.

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