translating you


You like to travel. You’re good at it. Your father taught you to respect other cultures, live like a local, not be a tourist, not be demanding, not isolate yourself. But you are living in a country where you don’t speak the language. Problems of translation arise every day. At first, you don’t understand anything at all. The gestures and the feelings behind what people are saying are lost to you because your conscious mind has been slammed up against a wall, a wall called language barrier. It’s real.IMG_6846 More than that, though, you don’t trust your instincts, even though you are a person who trusts her instincts. The deeper part of you knows what the woman is asking you when you fall off your bike and she bends down to help you up. Are you okay? Do you need help? But you stare at her as though you don’t understand. Because you are in a complete and utter fog. You are blocked. You can’t live like a local. There is no way to penetrate the culture, to be a part of it, without the language.

As time goes on, though, you relax a little. You begin to understand at least the feeling of people, even though you don’t understand their words. A man laughs when your dog barks ferociously at another dog and says something in Slovene and you nod your head and laugh. Yes, you think, she has a lot to say for such a little dog! And the two of you have a nice connection. Still, you don’t know what he actually said. You just had the feeling of it.

But problems with translation are not just between you and the people of the foreign country you are living in. Problems of translation also arise between you and the people you’ve left at home.

Home is accessible through the internet and sometimes, as most people have probably encountered, communicating without being together, in the same physical space, can create misunderstanding, arguments and, most often, a feeling of emptiness. You desperately want human connection with the people you love, but there is so much distance between you. You misunderstand, misrepresent, misalign your life. You are out of step, out of time with them. They are asleep when you wake up, you go to sleep when they have dinner.

But it’s more than that even.

It’s you. You feel the need to translate the metamorphosis that is happening to you. Wow, that sounds dramatic. I know. It’s because it’s untranslatable. It stands between two worlds. How can you explain the shedding of a part of yourself? It’s difficult to sum up. And also, you don’t quite understand what is happening. You look in the mirror. No new skin has not grown back yet, so you are exposed, raw, wide open. The phone makes the sound for Skype, the computer makes a sound for a Facebook message. You try to stay connected. But you’re not sure how to respond. With the old you? Or this in between you? You don’t know how to explain yourself a text. You try it like this. No, no, that confuses everyone.

Then there are the ones you really ache to see.You don’t want to grow separately, on your own, you want to grow with them.You email, screaming, “I need you to be a part of what’s happening to me!” But they can’t be. First of all, they are asleep when you are screaming and having dinner when you are dreaming. Secondly, they can’t get the feeling of you through the internet, even skype. They can’t touch you or make you a cup of tea. You can’t kiss them when they have a headache and you can’t make them dinner. You fight for a way back into the crook of your life at home. But you can’t.

You can only hope it’s there when you get back. This uncertainty creates great and deep anxiety.

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