Several months before we left for Mexico I decided I should try to learn some Spanish. I knew I couldn’t become fluent in a few short months but I could at least pick up a few useful phrases and greetings. “Dónde está el baño, anyone?” I took Spanish in high school and remember almost nothing. I took it again in college where I managed to get a C, one of only two grades below a B earned in my tenure there. Undeterred by my past failings I downloaded DuoLingo and got busy. Armed with my new words I attempted to order tacos at a Milwaukee restaurant in Spanish, only to confound the waiters who apparently don’t understand bad Spanish with a Minnesotan accent; who knew? I tried it out on my beloved housekeepers whom I have been trying to befriend for years but without a shared language I barely knew. We shuffled along poorly but still, it was something! I was far from a Spanish speaker with my sad list of forty or so words but ready or not, the day came when my knowledge, such as it was, would really be tested.
It was only Day One of our
I think that learning someone else’s language is a form of respect. You honor them, even if your attempts are broken and silly and completely out of order. You show the other person that you are not there to make Mexico or Africa or Haiti into a Little America, but you are there to stand alongside them in their own journey, in their own country. It feels good when someone tries to understand your language, whether it’s spoken or unspoken. We all want to feel heard and known.
The day I met the Ochoa family, that wonderful family with ten children at the top of the steep hillside, had I not learned my little basket of Spanish words we would have simply said “hola” and gone our separate ways. I would not have come home with twelve new friends. They may have continued to feel isolated and alone and would not have found a new community in a local church (more on that later). Beautifully, we made a meaningful connection, starting with broken Spanish and flourishing through a translator, a translator app, Facebook’s multi-language interface and now hours of chatting through Messenger and texting using Google Translate.
I am so excited to build on my Spanish, to keep learning more about this family, to get back to Ensenada to visit them, get real-life hugs from them and most importantly, to have deeper conversations with them using my newly acquired language skills. It is a journey worth taking,
Yesterday, Roman, the Ochoa’s oldest son, told me to hug my husband and kids from him and from his family. I told him to hug his family, too, teasing that it will take a while to hug them all. He replied to me “Oh, no, solo reuniré
Click for the next chapter: Ensenada: Laughter is the universal language.