When I moved to Ecuador for seven months my Spanish language skills involved some numbers, colors, and saying, “Hi, my name is Bridget”. . I knew it would be challenging, but I had no idea about how challenging life it would be for a non-speaker. Not being able to communicate my feelings to my host family was very frustrating for me despite their patient and lengthy efforts to help me learn and communicate. From the first day I discovered that I could show my thoughts through actions and movements. While living in Ecuador I have learned the unspoken universal language that is purely love and compassion.
The first night I was placed in my house I was completely overwhelmed. My host family was so nice but all I could say was “yo no comprendo” in reply to almost everything they said. I wanted to pull my sweater over my head and cry, I couldn’t deal with any of it. Avoiding eye contact, I looked around the room and my eyes fell on what I knew had to be a violin case. I pointed to it and in broken Spanish asked if I could play for them. My whole family’s faces lit up and they immediately took it out and gave it to me. I began to play and felt my whole body relax. Right after I stopped playing the piece, my younger host brother ran up to me and had me teach him how to hold the bow and play notes. Playing and sharing music helped my host family connect with me and learn what I was passionate about. Even though I have been playing the violin for thirteen years, that was the first time I had realized that music is an entire language with which I could use to communicate. Playing music has been an incredible way that I have crossed communication boundaries with my host family.
Drawing and physically showing what family is has been another amazing way of communication. By the second week I had gotten used to “ecua time”. at 8 PM in the US, I would just be starting my dinner but here in Cayambe it was almost time to sleep. I walked into my room, more than ready to cover my whole body with thick alpaca blankets and pass out from exhaustion, but I saw that my three year old host sister had gotten into my coloring supplies and paper. She had marker smudges all over her Elsa shirt and her hands. Looking up at me, she asked if I could draw with her for a bit. I watched her draw and realizing that she was drawing a tall blonde girl with blue eyes holding the hand of an Ecuadorian three year old – it was me and her! She looked up at me and said “mi familia”. I smiled and realized that she had showed me what family meant to her not just told me. Even through my thirty dollars worth of markers had been smashed into the paper in order for her to get her point across to me, It was worth it. It was physical proof that I was connected to the family and that drawing became so precious to me.
My host family takes great pride in their gardens. Being their passion, It’s what all of them do for a living. For the first few days I would offer to help but they would say stay inside or you will get sick. Finally they let me help them garden. The whole process took about two hours and by the end of it my back hurt so much from bending down. All I did was plant little asparagus seeds but they were so happy and proud of me. Taking interest and helping someone with what they are truly passionate about and how they define themselves was something that I never willingly did or thought about back in the US. Helping my host family farm did not require me to maintain steady conversations, it simply displayed my caring about their passions. Tapping into their passions and interests has brought me so much closer to all of the family members.
Learning the universal language has been one of the most valuable skills that I have learned within the past few months. Words fail. Kindness is universal. Stepping outside of oneself allows humanity to radiate through and one can see you at your purest state. When you truly learn and know someone- what their passionate about and their story- it is close to impossible hate them. Furthermore it helps you discover more parts of who you are and learning about yourself is the longest and most important journeys you could ever be on. I cannot wait to learn so much more from all of the strong people around me and this incredible country. Discovering that language is more than just words has been just one of many lessons to come.