A Whole New Word: Senior tells of gained perspective from Rotary Club

By Willa Simmet 2008

Tonight as I gaze outside of my Ecuadorian window at the stars in the southern hemisphere, I slowly repeat this phrase into the telephone to my mother in the northern hemisphere.
For two months, I have been living in Macas, Ecuador, learning to communicate with a different language.

This entails daily confusion that begins during breakfast with the maid and ends the moment I kiss my host mother’s cheek good night. While the language barrier often makes it seem like this world is incredibly large, I recently learned just how small this world is…

The moment I heard that river, I swallowed my gum and knew I was in for the ride of my life. Carlos, a seventeen-year-old Shuar (an indigenous group of people in Ecuador) boy took my hand and led me down the muddy path to the rapid and roaring water of the jungle. He put the tube in the water and told me to lay down flat on my stomach. Without hesitation, I did. I crave adventure like this. It gives me something to compare with the state my mind is in.

I watched Carlos make the sign of the cross and then I felt his body on top of mine. With his bare feet, he pushed off the rocks and suddenly we became a part of one of the most vivacious environments in the world.

He began shouting directions in order to maneuver our tube and lives away from the abruptly approaching rocks. Before I could process the puzzle of his word choice, I felt the water drench my hair and struggled to find something to wrap my hands around in order to stop my life from being sucked into the depths of Hell.

I grabbed onto one of the vines rushing past the right side of my face and instantly lunged for Carlos’s hand, before he was sucked down the river, leaving me alone with the mysteries of the jungle.

As the bitter water sped through my dangling body, I began shouting some of the few success words that I know in Spanish. Carlos smiled at me and motioned for me to dive back onto the tube. And once again, we were at one with the purest form of life.

As we sped around the corner, I knew something terribly riveting was about to happen. Carlos and I crashed into a pile of rocks and across the river from us, Daniel, another boy was clinging to a pile of sticks. I scrambled onto the rocks and watched as Carlos and Daniel tried to decide how to get Daniel and his tube across the river to us. Watching Daniel cling to the vines, all I could do was shout a few words of encouragement across the river to him. And then his tube was sucked down the river.

Now it was only Carlos, Daniel, one tube and myself. Daniel would have to swim across the river. Carlos walked as far as possible without losing control to the clenches of the river, and held out his hand for Daniel. Now the only sounds were the words of the rushing river. Daniel let go of the vine, fell into the water and ferociously swam across the river to Carlos’s hand.

He made it. I started screaming and ran to pull the boys out of the water. We shared some smiles and ventured into the jungle in order to find our way back to the path. Daniel and I grabbed the tube and followed a barefoot Carlos. As I ran after Carlos, past deserted Shuar huts and lemon trees, I turned around and shared a smile with a silent Daniel.

Communicating without understanding the language has been the most difficult thing I have done thus far in my life. Throughout the process, my mind has stretched and expanded, producing new ideas about the similarity of all human beings on this earth. We live in a large world, jam- packed with words, 99 percent of which I do not understand.

However, despite the language barrier, I felt the uniformity between Daniel, Carlos and ME during our tubing adventure.

In a world filled with strife and injustice, communication remains the biggest problem, but what if for one moment all the people in the world took a moment to remain silent with each other? What would we realize? Past the complexity of ideas expressed through words exists the simplicity of the language of the human heart.

Deep down, we all possess the same feelings and desires for this world and sometimes it takes something as immense as silence to realize that. When taking into account the land- mass of the world, it is incredibly large, but when looking at it from the eyes of the human heart, we live in a very small world.

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