“Come for a walk with me,” my host sister said. I looked up from my homework.
“Noritz?” I asked. Again? I didn’t catch the quick Armenian the first time.
“Take a break,” she urged.
“Ah, Hastgatsa,” I understood this time and shut my book. It had just poured outside, but the sky lit up a buttery yellow, in that way that reminds you that pretty much anything can be beautiful if you remember to look.
We walked to a neighbor’s house, where pastel colored water streamed off the roof and down lilac bushes and I taught the words for “garden” and “tomato”, and happily accepted a cup of coffee.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” a neighbor asked me.
“Salt—“ I began, then corrected myself, because the words for salt and garden sound similar to me in Armenian. “Garden very beautiful.” No article, no auxiliary.
He smiled anyway, and didn’t correct me. We traded garden words while the tsirani tsarr (apricot trees) and kanache (greens) shimmered in the sun and drying raindrops.
Language has been so hard for me. I’m self-conscious about how stupid I feel like I sound, and my American accent, and not learning quickly enough.
But my host sister speaks just enough English that we have a third language that is only for us. We speak in an Armenglish that gets the point across, and even without that, my Armenian is at its best when I’m with her, and when she praises me I know she really means it.
“You’re speaking well today. Really well,” She noted the day after I came home from site visits. I grinned, and really felt like I was able to communicate more than just a little.
The language barrier falls away completely when she sucks me into a dance in the kitchen. It’s one of those things that I did in America all the time—put on an old song while my sisters and I spun around the kitchen in socks dancing and flinging flour. Here, in a different kitchen on a different continent to a different song, we dance and spin like it’s nothing because there are some languages that are universal.
Like the one where you fling water from the hose at each other and laugh, or where I help clean the dishes so she’s not cleaning alone. Like her blow drying my hair and brushing it back off my forehead, pointing the blow dryer at my head like a gun and laughing. Laughing again over a dropped cucumber or laughing for no real reason at all, so hard that my cheeks and sides hurt.
Like the language where I am just a little sick and fling myself on to the couch with a dramatic sigh and announce in broken Armenian that I will soon be dead, and my host sister snickers and tells me doo verch nes, you’re the end.
Like the language where she teaches me to use the stove correctly and cook her favorite foods, and I help her make American style pizza. Like when she talks to me in quick Armenian and it doesn’t matter that I can’t understand understand, because I still get it, because I remember being sixteen too, and how that feels. Or a hand on your forehead when you’re sick, a head on your shoulder, a quick smile.
Within the safety of friendships and kitchens, language and words lose their weight, the forgotten auxiliaries and strange accents are stripped away, and you’re left with the remarkable sameness of every person, and a good reason to listen.
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(All views expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government or the Armenian government!)