Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hablar en otra lengua… (To speak in another language)

Today was a day of thinking. To some this may come as no surprise, and to my good friends it may possibly be a huge surprise that I do actually think. It was a day where I questioned what I am doing, why I am doing it, why I think it is important, among other things. So when dinner time came around and I was sitting at the dinner table with my host-dad, I let him have it. I opened up one box of worms after another. First I told him how I was not raised with any specific religion, then about how religion was explained to me by my father- (as a fence on a cliff top of a mountain on a deserted island, that some feel better with, and some are annoyed that people keep trying to put up fences for them, they just want to look down and see what there is to see, but there is no shame in wanting or not wanting the fence)(my interpretation of Dad’s description, don’t sue me!), then we talked about some semi-religious experiences (for you fencers) or coincidences (for you non-fencers) I have had, then we talked about the universe and the unknown, and we finally landed on my inability to find a way back to the feeling of satisfaction I vividly remember from the end of long days as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Although the specific stories I told him, and he told me, are interesting and worthy of a blog post (but let’s be honest, if I got a bad infection I’d think it was cool enough for a blog entry), they are not what I came out of dinner thinking about.

It is the fact that the whole conversation, the whole heart-to-heart, the connection we made, it was all done in Spanish. It is not important that it was done in specifically Spanish either, because it is just another way to put thoughts together. What I realized is that this other language was like a mask to me. Sometimes in English it is hard to show your face, your true colors, to even people that you know extremely well. It is a language we all know and use every day, so if we do not express what we are thinking correctly it is out of laziness, or even worse, lack of intellectual capacity. Sometimes it just sounds silly or absurd to hear our thoughts so starkly in a language we use all the time. Therefore a lot of times we keep quiet even when we have something we really want to question or mention or simply chat about. The fear of failure to express your thoughts or be judged or considered different keeps us in line, in check, and under wraps. But in Spanish it is like I am wearing a mask. I am not supposed to know exactly how to express every single thought I have with the most versatile word structure, I just need to communicate. The words that I use and the way that I say them- they are my mask. The way my eyes connect with theirs and the way I look down when something really makes me think- that all shapes the mask as well. I put on this mask and they see me. I can really reach across boundaries with the mask. It is something that transcends religion and language and culture.

I grew up in a suburb of Connecticut in a fairly comfortable lifestyle and economic bracket. My host-mother here grew up in a campo like the one I served in while in the DR, and my host-father was a crazy young kid in the city who changed from a heavy drinker and revolutionary who watched many friends die in wars to an architect and highly religious and insightful human being. Somehow, by way of una otra lengua, we completely understood each other tonight. I realized that moments like these are what make me keep searching for ways to return to the Peace Corps lifestyle. That real connection that happens when you put on your mask and finally someone can really see you, it is priceless. The fact that you know that your words weren’t the only reason that they saw you is indescribable. They saw you because of everything you did and said and acted but also because they were looking for you. They were searching for you, had their hands on your face with their eyes closed, feeling around and trying to make out the bends, corners, ins and outs of your mask. When they finally see it, see you, and appreciate you for sharing with them who you are, en otra lengua, it cannot be beat. That is the joy that speaking in another language brings to me, if only rarely, and is part of the reason I keep coming back to places like this.

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