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Foreigners but Friends

Friday, Oct. 22, 2010

Some Salvadorans don't have teeth. And even when they are fully equipped, they can be extremely hard to understand. From what I have heard, the Salvadorans we're encountering talk rather slowly and have an accent that isn't hard to decipher. But, no matter their resemblance to Jim Dale, they are still speaking in Spanish.

I often think about what superpower I would choose if I was granted one. Usually I lean towards flight, or the ability to see the outcome of any decision and thereby curing indecision. However, now, I would settle for being fluent in Spanish. I wouldn't even be greedy and ask to know every language in the world. Just Spanish would suffice. Now, there is something to be said for nonverbal communication, and here in El Salvador, a smile can go a long way, but it can never take the place of words. This is a program that relies upon the stories of the people to teach us about the reality of El Salvador. And rightly so. We've already become accustomed to the fact that when asked how many children a Salvadoran has, they often use the past tense, as while they might have had five children, it is most likely that they lost two in the war. We also know how much Monsenor Romero and the martyrs mean to this country, as you cannot have a conversation without hearing a comment of thanks to them or seeing a tribute to their lives making up the wallpaper of many houses.

But, there's also a lot that we haven't learned, just because we don't understand. Now, this is especially problematic for me, as my Spanish is arguably the worst of the group's. More than once I have sat across a Salvadoran, watching them offer everything that they have to the point of emotional breakdown, and all I can do is put on my sad eyes and hope that they don't ask me a question about what they have just said. It's an interesting problem because, in one way, I am here to learn Spanish, and immersion is the best way to accomplish that. However, I'm not sure that learning Spanish is worth what I'm missing. But, this is also a situation that I have no control over and all I can do is be thankful that I have friends that are willing to translate.
And, it's not as though Salvadorans are expecting full comprehension. They view us as friends, family, a support system, and students. Here to learn, not only about culture and history, but how to communicate. And, they don't view us as infantile. Luckily, Salvadorans never seem to hold back, despite the probabilities of us getting lost. We are here for them through their struggles and they are here for us through ours.

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Tags: Diana Fitts (El Salvador)

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