Lost in Translation: By Shaista Hasham, May 4th

I was definitely expecting some trouble translating from Spanish to English (and vice versa), but who knew the beginning of my troubles would be at the airport! The misunderstanding made us really late for our flight – right after the security check, four of us had to run to our gate, and boarded only 3 minutes before the flight was expected to depart! I have never been the last person on the plane! There were more misunderstandings at the Dallas airport – I didn’t know what the plan was for lunch, walked out of the bathroom and realized I had lost the team. Though exploring the airport was enjoyable, it took a while before we reconnected and I missed having lunch with the team. When we arrived in San Jose, my cellphone was not working and the internet was down – limiting communication all together. On Chira Island, I found a phone to call my family – where I could barely hear what they were saying on the other line. These experiences sparked my curiosity about the idea of communication. We all say “communication is key”, but not all doors are always locked. A good friend of mine always says that words don’t affect him as much – and I’m starting to think I understand exactly what he’s talking about.

This was only an appetizer – the main course was still to follow – communicating with my host family. My host mother is an absolute sweetheart. She is very kind hearted, has a beautiful smile and really made me feel at home (and not to mention, my age!) I live alone with my host family and have to communicate with them in Spanish.  My host father and host sister are very supportive of my lack of Spanish, and my little host brother and I have figured out how to play without understanding each other!

Speaking to my host mother in Spanish was a bit difficult. We still use the Spanish-English dictionary to try to get messages across. Showing me words like “fish” and “allergy” make sense – asking me if I am allergic to fish (and the fish that night was amazing!). It didn’t work so well when I was trying to ask her if she needed help – she thought I needed her to help me. I also saw my first cockroach – in the shower! I could have screamed for help – but I didn’t know how to! Maybe the Spanish word for “help” is good to know eh?

But there is still something beyond language that binds human beings together beneath the skin. While human beings are complex and speak through language, there is still so much more communication that can happen without language (or VERY minimal understanding of it). My host father and I have had conversations about the Earthquake in Japan, the history of Costa Rica, racism, fish and the police. My host sister and I bonded over Spanish and English music – and even Farsi music! My host mother and I also talked about music, animals, people of Costa Rica, her aspirations of learning English and of course – things I like to eat and if I’m comfortable around the house. We used actions, drawings and other small words to try to get our point across.

Even though all these conversations were happening in Spanish, there was so much I could understand. Even though I don’t remember a single Spanish word from our conversations, I am still shocked about how the messages crossed through. I realized that often one does not need translation to understand the essence of key messages – a sweet realization for sure. The words that are not said often mean so much more than the ones spoken, and the deeper meaning of the words are important. Often, when translating a phrase from one language into another, there is so much lost in that translation. Let me explain.

My host mother giving me the keys to the house saying “just in case you need it” cannot be directly translated into “I trust you with my house and all my personal belongings – you are now my family”. My host father saying “take my daughter with you to the ice cream shop tonight” does not directly translate into “I trust my daughter’s life in your hands, I know you will look after her well”. My host sister saying “Can I listen to your music?” does not directly translate into “I like hanging out with you and getting to know you better”. I still don’t understand what my host brother says when we colour some pictures, but I’m glad he still talks to me and comes up to show me his horse! Even though phrases can be translated, the love and heart they come with are often lost for words, and only need to be felt. And often, understanding just that feeling, the love and warmth of people who recognize the common human bond beneath our skin – that understanding is enough to communicate with the different people of the world, without the essence of a message getting lost in translation.

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