I did this in a hurry, so please excuse the typos. I'm sure that there are a few.
Something interesting happened today. I decided to go for a walk during my lunch hour, and headed East on South Temple toward the Cathedral of the Madeleine. I was getting close to the church when a man called to me from behind, and asked in broken English if I knew where the Catholic Church was. I said yes, it’s right here and pointed to it. He kept saying that he needed someone who spoke French, and I was thinking that I speak French, but not very good French, so I was hesitant to mention it. He seemed, though to really need help, so just as he was walking away I told him that I knew a little French. He almost jumped he was so happy. “You speak French! You know French!” Yes, I told him, but tried to emphasize that it was just a little bit of French.
He started telling me his story in half French half English, and I found that it was easier for me to understand what he was saying than it was to respond, but I did my best. He was from Togo in West Africa, a refugee, and came to Salt Lake as part of an organization within the Catholic Church. When he got here, he wasn’t able to get in touch with his contact person (I didn’t catch why exactly), so he had been wandering the streets for two days, stopping people and asking for help, but no one would talk to him. He assumed that was because he was black and a foreigner. He hadn’t eaten, and kept pulling on his clothes to show me how loose they were. He just wanted to find a place where he could eat and get something clean to wear.
We went to the rectory by the cathedral and rang the bell, but no one answered, so we went into the church itself. We didn’t find anyone. I kept thinking that there are missionaries on temple square who speak French. After looking for help at the cathedral, I started to suggest that we go to temple square. He pulled out a piece of scratch paper that someone had given to him with two lines written on it, “Church Office Building, Welfare Square”. I’m pretty familiar with the COB, so we headed in that direction.
At one point while we were walking, he pointed to some stairs leading up to a building and told me that he had stopped there the night before. Then he handed me a yellow paper and said that a police officer had given it to him – a citation for sleeping on the street. Nice. Very helpful Mr. Public Servant. I couldn’t see that there was a fine listed, and anyway how would the police find him again if he didn’t pay his fine? So I told him not to worry about it. He said that in his country the officers pull out guns and kill people, so he was happy to just get a piece of paper.
We walked past the Lion House, and turned onto the plaza. When we got to the fountain/reflecting pool, he stopped and stared at the temple, and kept saying, “It’s beautiful. Tres jolie, tres jolie”.
We walked into the building and to the reception desk where I was going to ask them to call someone in Welfare Services, but there were crowds with tourists blocking the way. I kept thinking that we should go to temple square and find a French speaking missionary, so when we saw the groups at reception, I said come on, we’re going this way. We went outside on North Temple and headed for Temple Square. He didn’t seem to trust me at this point because he thought that he needed to be at the COB – “Church Office Building” was on his paper. I kept telling him that we were going to find a French speaker, and by this time my lunch hour was up, so I needed to find him some help and get going.
We walked onto Temple Square, and he was surprised and happy to see it and told me that he had been there the night before, but it was late so no one could help him. I think that that’s where he got the piece of scratch paper. He had wanted to go back there today, but couldn’t find it again. A missionary couple approached us, and I explained that he was a refugee from Togo, and that he needed someone who spoke French. They kindly took him under their wing. I walked back to work.
I can’t imagine that I’ll ever see that man again. I’m hoping that the Temple Square missionaries took good care of him, and feel sure that they did. Who knows how it will all work out. It was nice, though, to help someone, and to use my French. Crazy, isn’t it, how these events come from out of the blue.