“Dear journal… I honestly didn’t think that it would be as hard as this. I’ve tried and tried countless times to learn Spanish so I can actually connect with these people but there’s something holding me back. All I want is someone to talk to.”
This entry was dated May 14. At this point, I had been living in Honduras, a republic in Central America, for 13 days. I knew no Spanish, which was their official language. So somewhere between English and Spanish, my personality lost its way.
I couldn’t add to conversations, communicate any feelings or ideas, or make people laugh. Anything I said would get lost in translation. I was living in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, and I was completely lost.
I moved to Honduras on May 1, after my application with Intercordia Canada was accepted. Intercordia has a partnership with St. Thomas University and other universities across Canada.
The program sends students to live with a host family in a foreign country for three months. The students work in the community and integrate themselves into daily life. Students also receive nine credits for their summer placements, along with interdisciplinary classes.
My work placement this summer was in a L’Arche community. L’Arche is a non-profit organization founded in 1964. It offers housing and work to people with cognitive disabilities and the people that assist them.
I was plunked into L’Arche with one other Canadian student and was expected to fit myself into this completely different world.
I lived in my head constantly and never knew how to communicate with the people around me. Throughout the day at my work placement I would wander around, helping wherever I could but all the while keeping my nose in a Spanish/English dictionary.
I grasped to the few Spanish words that I knew how to say.
David was a member of L’Arche. He was short in stature, like most male Hondurans are, and wore a crooked smile which he only showed to people he trusted. He had a thick streak of white going through his dark hair.
After a particularly frustrating day, my lack of Spanish really sunk in. Comforting thoughts of home were on my mind. I was sitting alone on a bench sifting through my dictionary when a rough hand slid its way into mine.
David was sitting beside me in silence, coyly looking the other way. “Hola David,” I said, which was the extent of my Spanish knowledge at this point.
He simply squeezed my hand tightly and smiled.
In that moment, I realized that communication might not be a problem for me. David had said so much in his silence than anyone ever could with words.
After my interaction with David, I began to focus on the ways that I could connect with L’Arche members without using language.
I embraced the culture of Honduras and found the people I worked with were incredibly in-tune with the right, more creative side of their brain.
Darwin, 22-years-old and the youngest member at L’Arche, was completely obsessed with making art.
We’d sit in our workshop for hours and I would draw with him. He, in turn, would help me learn Spanish.
Whenever we’d sit down together I would point out a colour and say it in English. He’d shake his head and repeat it in Spanish. This method of learning was so simple, but played a major role in my learning.
Dancing is a big part of Honduran culture. Jonny was a particularly flamboyant member who danced to every tune that played on the radio. He would jut and wiggle his hips back and forth while smiling a toothless grin. We spent many hot afternoons learning new dances.
My blundering, silly movements always made him laugh, and helped me get out of my comfort zone. The members of L’Arche had certain fluidity in their dancing that I was never quite able to mimic.
Connecting through art wasn’t confined to L’Arche.
My host mother in Honduras is a retired school teacher. As hard as it was to communicate with her at first, I could always sense an eagerness from her to learn.
One day I was sitting at our kitchen table, reading a book of translated poetry by Pablo Neruda when she excitedly explained to me that he was her favorite poet. After that, she and I would spend hours poring over this book.
We would sit side by side. She’d read the Spanish version of a poem on the left side of the page, and I’d read the English version on the right. We used Neruda’s beautiful words as a reference point for us to learn each other’s language.
This art form was able to transcend languages and connect our two completely different worlds.
Though my Spanish has dwindled, and my tan lines have long since faded from my summer abroad, the lessons I learned about pure human connection remain intact.
“Dear journal… only 2 more days left working at L’Arche. I’m going to miss everyone so much. The love they have showed, along with their openness over the past few months, has really affected me.”