Speaking with No Words

 Coming into this trip I was really worried about my Spanish speaking abilities. I worried that when in triage, I would struggle with giving patients instruction, knowing the numbers for birth years, and spelling names I had never heard before. Now though, after nailing down my triage script, I realize that communication isn’t just a simple exchange of information: “cual es tu nombre” … “mi nombre es ____”, it’s so much more. It’s a way to find a common ground of similar language when there may be so many differences between two people: race, religion, socioeconomic status, and health. Language is how we relate to one another.

Today, in clinic I really struggled with feeling incapable of making these kind of connections. School kids would come up to me with a wide smile on their face and ask me a question and when I replied with “un momento” in search of a translator I was met with a face of disappointment. 

Rabi Spike is someone I’ve come to love a lot, and often find my self in very deep conversations with. Today I learned a lot from him. Working with “Dora the Explorer level Spanish”, his speaking skills were much less than mine. Despite this, however, he finds ways to make the most beautiful connections with these children. Giving gifts, fist bumps, and playing games with the children, I learned there’s more than one way to learn about them and make them laugh. Now obviously what we learn is different from what you would get out of a conversation; we don’t know what they had for breakfast, or what their home life is like but what we get is their raw expression of their personalities - their sense of humor, their confidence, their curiosity - things you don’t need words to see. There’s something so beautiful about what comes of this sort of “silent communication”. You don’t get caught up in the questions of what they had for lunch, or what their favorite subject is. 

Today, when in the dentist office with Dr Christian I was tasked with “hand-holding” duty for a tooth extraction- just to make sure they didn’t try to swat any needles away. I found myself holding 7 year old Brenda’s hands and we just stared and smiled at each other for a little while. She knew I didn’t speak Spanish from me messing up saying “I like your shirt” (which had frozen on it- my favorite) and I knew she didn’t speak English, and so the silence wasn’t awkward, it spoke volumes.We just sat, smiled, and stared. It was beautiful.

Through gestures, smiles, and shared moments, I discovered the power of nonverbal communication to bridge divides and cultivate meaningful connections, reminding me that sometimes the most profound conversations are the ones spoken with no words at all.

-Mattie Gretzinger


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