If there’s anything that sums up this summer, it’s learning. It feels like I learn 3 new things before 8am every day, and the rest of the day follows suit.
Yesterday we were in a seminar about the spiritual capacity of children, which is enough to dwell on for a while. But before that all started, we had this time of what they call “liquid worship” which is an allotted time for you to go through stations that guide you to pray and think about different things. Hard to explain, but really really cool. My first station was to be prayed over by these two people I didn’t know. As they were praying, the girl stopped and said “God has gifted you with communication.” And told me how I should learn to be a stronger communicator from God and the way He communicates, and how I need to remember that I’m gifted that way and start using it in the areas that are hard to communicate.
Cross-cultural communication is hard. Some days it feels impossible. Everyone has different expectations that come from an entire life of experience that the other person doesn’t have and probably doesn’t understand. Tack on top of that how we speak different languages and it’s a free for all. So cycle that back to learning, I learned something from that prayer and from this culture. I’m a communicator. I’m a communications major, and a writer, and I’m used to being able to express myself well, and be understood well. Here my entire identity as a communicator has been ripped out from under me. No one understands me, I talk too fast and my words are too big. And I don’t understand them, and we’re left plugging things back and forth through Google translate. And Google translate certainly doesn’t understand anything.
It’s strange being in a place where no one speaks your language. Arabic speakers are much more conversational with strangers than anyone in America. Everyone’s talking to each other from their cars, in the stores, in the streets. But Miss English over here is walking around in my own little world, with all these connections flying over my head. I’m probably mostly taken for rude because chances are I’m constantly ignoring someone. I also haven’t perfected the art of communicating that I speak zero Arabic. The other day I was in Zara checking out and the cashier spouted off a sentence to me in Arabic and I just started at him blankly. So he repeated himself, naturally, because I was just standing there staring at him. Finally I realized that no longer how long I stand there and stare at him he’s never going to realize that I only speak English and said “sorry, English?”
Photographic evidence of me learning Arabic from my friend Josh in the backseat on the way to an elementary school. Josh is an American, but he’s been learning Arabic for a while. He learns new things from the Arab interns and writes down vocab lists and then teaches them to me later and it’s the best. I’ve got 11/28 letters down, and yesterday I read a word unprompted and understood what it meant and then ran around my apartment yelling in celebration.
I was in church on Wednesday night, a Pentecostal church that goes anywhere from 2-5 hours and speaks exclusively Arabic with translation only during the sermon. Not understanding worship and not understanding conversations around me is frustrating like none other. But we got to the sermon portion and the translator said into our ears “bye guys!” and we looked around to see this tiny little Chinese man walking up to the podium.
No way, this isn’t going to be in English.
“Johnny is going to be telling us today about his ministry in China and Nadia will be translating to Arabic.”
The best thing about hearing a speaker in your native language is that you get to be the ones that laugh at the jokes first instead of laughing 3 minutes later as a group when the translator catches up. And you get to hear the initial passion. Passion is lost in translation, always.
So this little Chinese man is up there speaking broken English, exuberant broken English, and this poor woman is trying to understand and then translate to Arabic before the crowd thinks that she needs help and starts yelling out their own versions of translation.
He referred to Lebanon as Leebalon for an hour and a half and used phrases like “blow my mind” which entirely stumped the poor translator. He spent the first half talking excitedly about how they don’t just eat rice in China they have noodles and bread too and the bread is good. And they don’t all have tiny eyes either. I’m pretty sure we were the only ones tracking on any of that.
He talked some about America which was the most curious sensation of hearing someone talk about you behind your back. And he talked about the freedom of belief they have in Lebanon (Leebalon) compared to China, which was incredibly humbling.
And it was the most fantastic cross-culture display. Because we were all a little lost in translation, and we were all learning to be okay with it.