Ilonka has many roles in the community, she is our German teacher, she makes sure we always remember to clap for important occasions and she will always loan you an umbrella. Ilonka has also taught me an important lesson to better understand my own role as an assistant, and it’s about inclusion. A few years ago when I first met Ilonka, we went together for a retreat in the sunny Okanagan. I knew very little about Ilonka, except that she loved umbrellas, rings and her bikini. One beautiful summer afternoon, we were walking down to the beach to soak up the sun. Ilonka was very excited because she not only was wearing her bikini, she also was wearing a giant ring and carrying her favourite rainbow umbrella!
Ilonka loves meeting people, and is proud to show off her beloved possessions. In her excitement to make a connection with someone, things like personal space go right out the window. Also she has a hard time getting her words out so the other person can’t understand her. The road down to the beach was crowded with people, and Ilonka was happy to see them. Like a shot she was off, running from one person to the next asking three questions in quick succession: “Do you like my ring? Do you like my umbrella? Do you like my bikini?” and before the person had time to finish their answer she was off to the next person. I was only seeing how close she was getting to people, the invasion of their space, and I felt I was supposed to somehow manage the situation. I ran after her asking her to wait and slow down, but she shook my hand off her arm, turned to me and said “Let me talk to the people!” I realized she was right as I stopped and watched the people she was approaching. Some remained wary of her, but many others smiled, especially when she complimented their rings or bikinis. Behind us on the road, I saw Ilonka was leaving smiles in her wake. I realized she had the right to be there and to interact with the wider community. It wasn’t my job to protect people from Ilonka.
I’m grateful for this lesson Ilonka has taught me, especially because it is one she is willing to teach me again and again when I forget.