I just got back to my hotel after a long day of meeting with people in a faraway place that I never thought I would visit during my lifetime. It was a great day…one of those days when you learn so much and feel like your brain is going to explode from all of the exciting things you didn’t fully appreciate or realize were taking place in this amazing place we call Earth.
I’ll write more about the country and the place later, but I wanted to write a few lines about what most impressed me about today. It was language.
For a guy like me, who likes to talk (and I do!) there is nothing quite like an excellent conversation. You connect, you learn, you express, you empathize, and get to revel in the beauties of language. But today was one of those days when I was in a place where I spoke almost nothing of the language around me. Our hosts demonstrated how they could easily show off their rich heritage of multiple languages, layered one on top of another like a linguistic lasagna filled with nuance and history. But I didn’t have any of the advantages of knowing any of their languages. At first I was genuinely saddened that I wouldn’t have the chance to communicate without an interpreter. But then, as it often does, life intervened with an important lesson.
At one of our stops today I found myself in a spot where neither our translator nor host were near. I looked over at the group of young people in front of me, wanting desperately to talk more with them beyond the simple “hello.” We fumbled back and forth with a few gestures and some of my weak attempts to find a lexicon we could use to break the ice. Then, all of the sudden, one of the young girls did something simple and powerful. She held out her hands and offered me a plate of fruit.
Hospitality has always been one of the most important ways that people communicate, with or without words. And this young girl, in the company of her peers and a stranger like me, took advantage of the powerful tool of kindness to communicate that I was welcome in her community, that she was putting her best foot forward, and that we could start connecting over something (like delicious fruit!) that unites everyone in the world.
Now I could go on and on about the delicious fruit (pictured). But I will save that for another post. What moved me about today was the reminder that language is so much more than words and that communication takes many forms. When words or gestures failed me today in a remote town hemispheres away from home, the genuine, bold hospitality of a young person called on the kind of hospitality that has been bringing people together for centuries…genuine kindness in the form of a plate of the season’s finest fruit.