Escucha la gente, y poco y poco, tu entenderes y hableras. – Omar, the jewelry maker
Since I came to Medellin, I have been asked many times, “What are you here for?” Every time I have explained that I am teaching yoga and learning Spanish. Both are true and happening. But as the days go by, I sense that there are more reasons why I am here.
Since I arrived early last Sunday morning, I realized that I didn’t know as much Spanish as I thought I did. All of the hours of studying and week long trips to Mexico feel ancient and buried underneath years of the blissful freedom to speak my native language. I sat next to a sweet older couple on the plane from Fort Lauderdale to Medellin. Every time they asked me a question, I paused for what felt like several minutes before I could think of a response that might actually make sense. The words didn’t come out like I thought they would. Well, honestly they barely came out at all.
One of the things I like about practicing speaking a different language is that it propels you into the present moment and forces you to be intentional with your words. Just as Don Miguel Ruiz explains in The Four Agreements, “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean… Use your power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” As much as I am challenged by the language barrier, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak only what I mean.
I went dancing a couple nights ago and met a young man named Brus who taught me the Bachata. After the dance, I asked him, “Es la barrata?” The look on his face was priceless. He scrunched up his forehead and began to blush, “No era muy bien?” When I realized I had just said “cheap” rather than the name of the dance, I apologized profusely. “No no no, que tipo de bailar? Es salsa o baracha?…” BACHATA. Es Bachata.
We both laughed and Brus realized that I didn’t speak Spanish very well. He asked me where I was from and eventually we decided to practice speaking each other’s languages together. He was thrilled with the idea of learning English from a native speaker, and I was equally excited to learn from a native Colombian.
“Find the courage to ask questions and express what you really want.” Ruiz’s way of living could not be more on point with a traveler in a new country. I have found that I am most frustrated when I try to figure things out on my own rather than just asking someone. I feel vulnerable constantly explaining that I am not a native speaker and I don’t know where things are or how to do things here. Being honest and willing to learn will get you much farther.
Omar the jewelry maker was one of my first real conversations with a native Colombian. He set up his creations on a small table next to an Arepa stand on Calle 70. His complexion was a carmel leather tone and his sun-kissed curly mane was quite striking. I attempted to converse with him, but quickly ran out of words. When I explained that I was learning (aprendido), Omar told me the story of when he traveled to Italy but could not understand the language. It was different and more challenging for him than he expected. Little by little, he listened and he learned. “Poco y poco…” he continued to repeat and point to his ears.
Every night my head is spinning with words I heard during the day, some I understand, some I don’t. The other day I woke with the word “Subir” in my head. I couldn’t remember what it meant, but for some reason appeared. It literally means, “Up.” I laid in bed for a little while, hitting the snooze button on my brain, but the word kept flashing like an alarm. Yesterday I woke up with the word “preparacion” in my head.
I’ve taught a couple yoga classes since I’ve been here, but I do feel much more out of my element as a teacher. I recognize that more than anything I’m here to learn and I am learning more than my brain can keep up with it seems. As I begin to start my weekly routine of learning yoga in Spanish and soon teaching it in Spanish I’m also putting down a few roots to find some grounding.