Tasting Illiteracy

— Not forgetting those who can't read

Last night my husband and I went out for ramen. The menu was in Chinese and Japanese, neither of which either of us could read. After spending years in Germany without understanding German, this wasn’t a problem.

I’m effectively illiterate in Taiwan. In Berlin, I’d been illiterate for several years. When they count the number of people illiterate in the world, 781 million adults, I don’t count as one. But I do get to see a little of what it’s like.

The experience of not understanding has allowed me to not take anything for granted.

‘I got served a meal! Yay!’ My expectations are always low, which means I’m constantly satisfied. Not being hungry is far better than being hungry. At the very least, pointing and communicating with pre-school knowledge allows me to get close to what I need.

Food is one thing, but official documents that are required for a person to register and be in a country? That’s so much harder to deal with as a person who can’t read. In Germany, my husband and I got a small taste of it. You feel powerless not being able to understand. You’re signing documents that you don’t know much about.

At the same time, so many live without understanding and I can imagine so many feel powerless because they can’t read. I only get a small sampling of the difficulty but I feel privileged to taste it.

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