“Se suas palavras forem verdadeiras, as pessoas vão entender você.” The Brazilian man smiles at me knowingly before adding a few sticks to the bonfire as the sliced berinjela (eggplant) sizzles atop a makeshift grill. I look to the only person here who speaks a little bit of English for help.“ Wait, what did he say???” I try to ask politely, but there is an edge of frustration in my tone as I choke back tears. This language barrier seems to magnify every challenge I face, and tonight has been particularly unfortunate. I have lost all patience for not being able to communicate the way I normally do.
Just twenty minutes ago, before arriving at this hostel, a young girl pulled a gun on me in the street. When I saw the gun, I instinctively used English instead of Portuguese to tell her that all I had with me was my phone. The girl scoffed at my English and mocked me before grabbing my phone and running off. I am fairly shaken up and all I want to do is cry and vent… preferably in English.
“He said that if your words are true, people will understand you.” I cannot resist laughing at the irony, but through my poorly restrained tears, it sounds more like an obtrusive, snot-filled grunt. I spend the rest of the evening sitting quietly and letting their Portuguese chatter wash over me. I feel disconnected from the foreign words they are speaking, and my reactions are operating on social autopilot.
Right before I leave for bed, the man who spoke to me by the bonfire places his hands on my shoulders and looks me in the eyes. His earnest and direct movements cause me to snap to attention, and I suddenly understand just how far away from the present moment I have been since being robbed. “Boa noite,” he says, and his energy actually feels tangible. In that moment, I realize what he meant when he said, “Se suas palavras forem verdadeiras, as pessoas vão entender você.” My fear and anxiety fed the division I felt from the group far more than us not speaking the same language.
When a person is in a heightened state of consciousness, nobody can succeed in lying to them. Words that are not true, cease to hold meaning. Communicating on a higher level of awareness means knowing that false words are irrelevant. As I am learning Portuguese, I find I learn much faster when I connect genuinely with people, despite not knowing the meaning of many words. Imagine a world where language is used primarily as a medium for artistic, personal, and cultural expression, rather than having to depend on it as our dominant tool for understanding one another?
It is dangerously easy to hide behind language. It is used to mislead, to divide, and to mask intentions. Yet, when we slow down, listen, and live truthfully in the present, we can forge meaningful and powerful connections without our mother tongue. When we communicate authentically, we surpass words, we clear confusion, we heal turmoil, and we mend divisions.
I have a friend who told me he once hated a man. The man seemed strange because he never talked to anyone or looked at anyone. My friend was convinced this man must be evil. Then one day, the man shattered my friend’s hatred and bridged a massive gap of communication with just one simple gesture: the man outstretched his hand and looked my friend directly in the eyes with undeniable compassion. The moment transcended language and restored true understanding, and then the man said, “This being has no hate” and my friend knew that those words were full of truth.
Author: Katie Hemingway
Katie Hemingway travels the world by herself making as many friends as possible along the way. She enjoys discovering music, attending theatrical performances, and reading books on newfound beaches.