Monday, December 9, 2013

Bridging the cultural divide without words.

Tonya with grandpa when we arrived home from Australia
No words necessary.
Yes, I realize this website is all about writing, but on the other hand, what is writing all about? For me it's mainly about self-expression and communication with others. And as a writer I love words. But is it only the words, eloquent as they may be, or is it the people who speak or put those words together who are the true communicators across all barriers including culture and language?

I am reminded of our trip from Australia back to the US when our daughter was not quite two years old. We spent time in the Philippines, Thailand, Lebanon, and many European countries, and I wondered how we would communicate not knowing their languages. But I noticed that everywhere we went Tonya made friends with other children and adults from many cultures. I was amazed at her ability. Obviously her communication was not through words, seeing as she spoke only a few words like, "Sitdown, daddyadoit, mommygoplay, and dawberdies" her favorite fruit. Yet she enthralled her companions. In the camp ground she would gather to her a gang of kids of varying ages and they would all play and natter in their native languages. Everyone seemed to understand each other. Often I sat and watched and listened to them---their tone of voice, their squeals of delight, their enthusiasm, their smiles, their tears, their laughter, their jumping up and down swinging their arms around, their gestures to each other.

Young children understand the natural language of the body of all humans before they are taught not to listen to it or are taught to change it. But as we get older we forget and we are taught that certain gestures and protocols  mean different things in different cultures. We learn to be careful of each other.We believe we can communicate with others only with words and if we don't know their language we won't be able to understand them.

We have spent several winters in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I had forgotten that language is not always words and I knew very little Spanish. I worried about communicating with the many people who did not speak English. But when we arrived we encountered few problems. The universal language there is their love for their children. As soon as we smiled and played peek a boo with the kids the adults opened up and took us places and taught us things we would otherwise never have seen or learned---like the baby Ridley's green turtles on the beach crawling from their nests to the ocean. Or the birth of a baby humpback whale.

Last night I watched Pavarotti sing several songs from different operas and I was once again amazed. I knew none of the words he sang and yet I knew exactly what he was singing. And I fell in love with him again as so many others have done.

So as I watch the grief that the world shares over Nelson Mandela's passing, now between Thanksgiving day and Christmas, I once again remember that we are all humans created the same regardless of where we live on earth. May I always remember this truth as I write.


Elizabeth S. Brinton said...

Thank you for this profoundly, meaningful post.

Ana said...

Thanks Elizabeth for your comment. May we all remember the language of love this Christmas season.