Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Speaking in Public: In Spanish

I do not get nervous when I am preparing to speak to a crowd of people. I am a freak of nature I suppose: I hate chocolate, find great joy in running, and relish the opportunity to speak in front of 10´s or thousands of people.

I remember leaving the United States and sitting in that Miami airport with two thoughts preoccupying my mind. I think when we are going through a shocking transition our brain has a beautiful and uncanny ability to not focus on what might be too much for us and instead allow us to preoccupy ourselves with rather trivial matters. For me that day, holding a bottle of Odwala juice in my hand and a speech by Greg Boyle in the other, I feared two things: I won´t taste orange juice this good for two years and perhaps more frightening yet, I will never be able to speak in public like I did back at LMU, back in Albuquerque.

We all have talents and sometimes they are obvious. The really good athlete finds little room to hide on the court or field and the intelligent student is reinforced every 9 to 18 weeks with a piece of paper that can speak volumes with one vowel: A+. I was one of those kids that went through high school generally OK at everything but great at nothing and it was not until college that I realized what my talent was: public speaking. I have given several speeches over the years from crowds of 10 to 2,000, and almost every time is without a script and oddly enough, without a fear.

But coming to South America, I was not prepared for many of the realities that would greet me but I was sadly, ready for one: It would take months, years, or maybe I would never reach a point where I could speak with the same clarity I spoke with in English. Hindered by grammar and a lack of vocabulary, how could I ever move a crowd like I had in the past? I just discovered my talent, and now I thought I was sidelining it for two years and feared even more if I would ever be able to recover it…

And so sitting in the conference room at the language institute looking at this crowd of eyes looking back at me I felt like laughing and crying as for the first time in months, that old feeling crept back into my body. Here I was facing a group of Spanish speakers, about to tell them what my service journey means to me. It would be a short speech, all of about five minutes, but as my mouth opened to give my first speech in a foreign language, my heart skipped a beat with an ever joyous and unbelievable clarity: I am ready.

I still do not speak Spanish correctly. I get the verb tenses wrong (for God´s sake there are 14!), am short on my vocab by about 40,000 words (according to mi MINI dictionary), and mix basic sentence structures up because I am translating from English to Spanish rather than just speaking. When I spoke to this group though, I did not speak from a mind that was busy trying to translate words from one language to another: I spoke from my heart, incorrect verb tenses, simple words and all. I spoke with a belief that became a desire to reach these people despite the many barriers that stood between us. Words from the heart coupled with a genuine and sincere conviction in what it is you want to say and I am convinced you can still reach people, still move them to feel what you are feeling.

In a volunteer life more often than not defined by the humbling recognition of our inabilities, I had my five minutes to shine, my five minutes that taught me what might be the most valuable Spanish lesson I will receive here in Bolivia: if you want to communicate with people, search less in the textbook, and more in your heart where language has the ability to become universal. I'm listening to Kite by U2 at this moment and can´t help but scream out the lyrics with Bono ¨I'm a man, not a child! Whose to say where the wind will take you, whose to say what it is will break you, I don´t know where the wind will blow!¨

I made a connection a few nights ago, I gave my first ¨discurso¨ in Spanish, and throwing humility out the window, it felt frickin great! And if that weren´t enough, the juice is even better out here, and a hell of a lot cheaper! (=

Please remember to shop smart this Christmas and read the blog about Christmas about 2 or 3 entries back now.

1 comment:

Gisella Mendizabal said...

I feel you patricio!!!!! funny how you can finally fell how i feel soo many times... freaking grammar right!!!! lol TE QUIERO MUCHO!!!