A Language Barrier for me can bring feelings of vulnerability,
uhh… and insecurity.
Also ineptness and sometimes, worst of all, sadness.
These are all the feelings I get when I am traveling in a place and don’t speak the language.
Now that I think about it, the feelings I get are all rooted in deep frustration.
I find it deeply frustrating that I just can’t find the words to express things that I really need to say at certain moments when I’m traveling.
My frustrated feelings are intensified when I’m really mad. Like when someone is trying to rip us off and we know it but I don’t have the words to defend us or express my anger. Or when I am in a social situation and know the gist of the conversation happening I can become frustrated. Not because of anger but ineptness. Because by the time I dig out my translator to contribute something I thought would be vitally important to say, the moment is gone and the conversation has moved on.
Then there is the worst kind of frustration, one that is wrapped in sadness because I want to say thank you and express heartfelt gratitude and “thank you” just doesn’t cover the intensity of, well, thankfulness I feel toward some people when we travel.
In Barranqullia I did not experience any mad frustration. No one we met in Barranquilla was working to rip off foreigners. I did feel a bit of ineptness socially though. When I wanted to express my opinion accurately and in a timely manner on a few occasions but couldn’t.
But the last and in my opinion worst frustration, the one wrapped in sadness,
I felt that one the most.
Which in another strange emotional twist; I also feel grateful to feel frustration due to sadness. It means I have experienced the thing I love the most about traveling. The thing that makes my most vivid travel memories, memorable. We made real connections with people despite the language barrier.
My fondest most vivid travel memories don’t surround seeing the sights but are those involving people. Meeting amazing people in faraway places. It can be a on a tour or a bus ride, in a restaurant or a cab, meeting for a short time or a long time, one time or many, you get the idea.
There are people I will never forget like Millie, a waitress in a restaurant in the port on Saint Thomas. I felt a connection to her almost immediately. We even became pen pals and corresponded for a few years.
We met Millie at lunch, a 2 hour encounter tops, chatting over delicious Caribbean Roti and ice cold Becks beer. She affected me and became a friend in 2 hours in a random restaurant in Saint Thomas. I still remember her face, her smile and how it showed her love for her home. She wanted us to know the best about St. Thomas and she managed to accomplish that in 2 hours!
I will never forget St. Thomas because of Millie. I love that about travel, the intense connections you can make in such a short time for me and this is the greatest reward of travel. Millie spoke English, so beautifully with a smooth, thick Caribbean accent. I could look into her eyes and tell her all the feelings I had in my heart and she knew right then and there that she had made my trip.
Rob and I have made so many great connections while traveling and most of the time we could express our gratitude by saying the words that closely match the way we felt. But then there are those times, which are more special because the connection happened despite the inability to find the right words at the right time. A language barrier prevented the words from coming but in the end the words weren’t needed to forge a friendship. That’s what happened in Barranquilla.
This special person in Barranquilla is Nazly. She rented us an apartment and invited us to be part of her family. She is a truly beautiful person who is now our friend. Nazly showed us so much about what makes Colombia amazing without words we could understand. She showed us with her beaming smile, through her genuine desire to spend time with us and cook for us and treat us like family. Nazly showed us her city, driving to show us what she loved about Barranquilla. We spent many hours with Nazly and it never felt frustrating or uncomfortable not speaking the same language. We managed to communicate and make a connection without words which makes it even more amazing.
It wasn’t frustrating, until we had to say goodbye. Then I felt that terrible feeling of frustration wrapped in sadness because I couldn’t say all I wanted to say. We did get to say mucho grasias and aidios and give her a big warm hug but here are the words to describe how we really felt about our time with Naz:
Thank you so much Nazly, for welcoming us to Barranquilla and your home. You showed us genuine friendship right from first meeting. Because of this we will never forget you and our time in Barranquilla. Naz, who you are and how you treat visitors to your city is why we believe travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. We all feel much richer for meeting you. Muchas, muchas grasias Nazly. Until we meet again.