I finally feel normal in a world that mostly consists of the Spanish native tongue. I say “mostly” quite loosely because when amongst my fellow volunteers, we tend to slip right back into English bro-slang. The first couple of weeks, at the end of the evenings, I felt drunk with confusion and barely had a moment for reflection. I couldn’t keep my mind from wondering to a place of escape during conversations in Spanish but became an expert at maintaining eye contact and chuckling with the group on cue. It was a frustrating feeling; being an ant in a world where spiders rule the grounds.
I feel like I’m starting all over. I’m back in kindergarten trying to remember a is for apple and b is for banana. Except in my case, its r is for “recursos” and s is for “sostenibilidad.” If only the vocabulary building was simply apples and bananas, but it’s that and so much more in order for me to have the specific training to be a business facilitator in my future community. Back to the basics it is. A struggle to get my point across. A struggle to exude confidence while frantically flipping through the weathered pages of my dictionary.
It’s interesting to think how much words and language impact our ability to be heard and to generate complex thoughts. One of my friends here is from China and speaks Mandarin, Korean, English, and is now learning Spanish. I asked him when he lays down at night and is drifting off what language his mind wanders in and he said “pictures.” How interesting, right?! I have such a new found respect for anyone who is speaking a second (or third) language as their primary language. It’s really a testament of your dedication to be heard and understood. Who do you want to be – an observer on the sidelines or the one scoring the goals?
The other night my host dad and I had a lengthy conversation about Costa Rican economics and the US’s perception of the value of a dollar. This conversation is in Spanish, where my vocabulary is nowhere near advanced and I’m trying to convey my knowledge and interest but it comes off so dry and simplistic. My concept of self and purpose were lost well beyond the means of translation. I went to bed tossing and turning because what I wanted to say was important and relevant to our conversation but it came off so robotic and basic. But I keep pushing.
Ultimately, learning is everything. One of our staff members said the other day, “learning is the most intimate act.” It’s a process done through the explanation and guiding of others, but such a personal journey. You get what you put in.
I spend so much of my time in the dark that I often make up stories. I am normally a person of inquiry – wanting to know life stories, but currently, my capacity to communicate is not delving much deeper than the peel of an orange. So I tend to make up the story behind the scar on the cheek, the sadness I see behind her eyes, and the tattered house I pass on my Camino every day.
It’s almost better to just be – living in a land of charades not digging into someone’s past but deciphering what we have together: a few simple sentences in Spanish together. I’m not swishing the paint brush story by story, experience by experience to create the gran dios person in front of me. Rather, I’m looking at the painting as a whole: as I see it. Avoiding curiosity of the paint. Going off the deep blues and violets of the moment. The vibrance of a conversation. Figuring out how we can understand each other right now versus comparing the stories of our past.
Going back to the basics of basically learning how to talk again has been probably some of the most challenging moments thus far. But at the same time, they’ve made me laugh, they’ve made me appreciative, and most of all they made me be creative. The basic fundamentals of learning have insured a sense of imagination into my mind that I never knew existed. I’ve also found a new element of the importance of living in the now. My Spanish level is best by using the present tense. Not a whole lot is talked about in past tense or future. It’s kept me living in the present and focusing on the now. Something I’ve struggled most of my life to do.
Something I am starting to grasp is that for many things I’m currently experiencing, and many parts of life, there is no direct translation. For every word I find myself racking my brain for the English meaning, I have to remember that not all Spanish words are going to come across translated for an English meaning. A meaning isn’t always going to be cut and dry. And life doesn’t come with a dictionary for translation.
As much of a frustration it is that so much is lost in translation, it also is quite beautiful. It’s moments of reflection. Moments of carefully choosing how to convey a simple point. Appreciating the ability to hear and be heard. Communicating with limited resources of vocabulary but still running lengths in comprehension. Every day is a struggle. Tiny pieces of information fall through the thick cracks of translation, slipping into a black hole that i might never be able to recover, but that is just life in a foreign world – and you keep going.