As I said my last goodbyes to my family, all the way back in August, my mother gave some last minute advice through the din:
“And take that string off your wrist! Please, you want to look nice, don’t you?”
Two weeks after receiving this message (and still wearing the string), I boarded a plane for Ecuador. I found myself seated next to a ten year old Ecuadorian girl, who couldn’t speak a lick of English, but knew how to play Cat’s Cradle. In the middle of trying to explain Jacob’s ladder with only points and grunts, we slowly figured out that we could not literally “speak” to each other but that sitting and playing string games would make the five hour flight go a lot faster. My Spanish consisted of “how-are-you, what’s-your-name, hi,” yet we still communicated. If we had spoken the same language we probably would not have had such an acute interest in each other. The sounds and motions the other made intrigued us and for me, presented a challenge to find a way of transmitting ideas between each other.
While showing each other different tricks, “games,” not only did the time pass much faster but I moved a bit out of my uni-lingual bubble into the world that was to be my home for the next 7 months. I did not understand anything that my seat-mate and her sister said, but when she spoke slowly and deliberately I could understand that her name is Genesis and that she was ten years old.
Things do change, even in such a small time as five months, but as ever I still have the string on my wrist. It stretches the entire way from Atlanta, Georgia International Airport to the playground at Maria Montessori Jardin for Infantes in Ibarra, Ecuador. At recess, I started making something, and was interrupted to play Cat’s Cradle. Only this time I joked along with my playmate, who happened to be a 56 year-old pre-school teacher. She teased me for starting it oddly, I teased her for not knowing one of the parts, the other teachers teased us for playing kiddie games, and the entire game was understood and participated in by me… in Spanish.
Who would have thought that a simple string could even matter at all, much less make such a difference as it has. A game is the most basic of conversation starters. Be it a conversation in English, Spanish, or gibberish, it is a conversation none-the-less. So whether I’m fussing with my coworkers over some more particular aspects of Cat’s Cradle, or teaching Jacob’s Ladder to a ten year-old, the point is that I am interacting with people in a way I never would have, if I didn’t have a magic string. The kind that looks very plain but with a little bit of help from myself and a friend-to-be can become what ever we can imagine it.