Although Peru is a wonderful, amazing place, another thing was at play: language. By the time I got to Peru my Spanish was finally at a level where I could have regular conversation on a wide range of topics.
Sadly, as soon as I reached this relative level of fluency I left for Asia.
In Asia I’ve been fully dependent on friends and others to translate what’s going on around me when appropriate. For the most part, I can’t talk to many people here. Even in India, a country with English as its national language, more times than I can count I needed help and couldn’t find anyone who spoke English.
Things always work out fine, of course, but there’s a huge difference when you travel and know the local language compared to when you don’t. When you don’t, you rely more on your senses, which can be good, but also you rely on translation and a third party to interpret reality.
I haven’t pitied the fact that I know no local languages too much in Asia, though it would have been nice at the Buddhist Temple in Thailand.
Myanmar was a different case though.
The people in Myanmar were so nice, so friendly, and so interesting. On too many occasions I found myself making a small comment to a local person who didn’t speak English, but my unintelligible comment still elicited a smile from them. There was so much I was curious about, so many interesting-looking people I wished I could have spoken to.
But I couldn’t and I’m ok with that. Maybe having that conversation would have been completely uninteresting and the mystique of what lies behind that curtain is far more tantalizing than what actually does lie there.Still, this trip is about forging human bonds and connections. Not having many interactions with the always-smiling Burmese people hurt more than I would have thought. But as I just said, the people were always smiling and sometimes that’s the best form of communication.
I recently spoke to Mrs. Bordner’s Spanish 1 class in Pittsburgh via Skype. Most questions from the students involved the practicalities of my trip and my experience in Latin America. I write this blog post for them and for all who learn a second, third, or fourth language. There’s so much that lies behind that proverbial curtain and a new language is literally the key to opening up those rich opportunities.