Language is unifying. Whether you believe it or not, language is what allows us to connect and build bonds with people sprinkled through the world. Be it English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Mandarin or anything else in between knowing more then one language allows us to broaden our social circle and spread influence. Having been put in a country that the majority of the world has never even heard of allows me to develop a deeper appreciation for language in general. I’ve always been fascinated by learning different languages. I considered it fun and a great way to learn about different cultures and people. Now I have a great appreciation for the power of language. The way speaking a universal language can open doors that speaking local languages sometimes don’t. For instance, in Comoros Shikomori is the language of the land, broken into three dialects spread throughout the three islands, it’s the way the people communicate and the languages I’ve been studying. Yet, I live in a village where the elders encourage the children to speak either French or English, to practice a language that will allow them to do something. While Shikomori is the language of the land, the people want something that the rest of the world will recognize not just those that hail from this speck on the map.
Before I came to Comoros, everyone that knew I was leaving for the Peace Corps asked me why. Why the Peace Corps? Why teaching? Why Comoros? I always struggled with the answer, I knew why I wanted to do it but articulating that was a lot harder then I expected it to be. When I arrived and was placed with my host family, I asked them why they wanted to learn English? Their response was that English is an international language. At the time, it made me smile but now I understand. When you grow up on one of these islands, speaking one of these dialects and knowing nothing else you can only travel within these islands. You are cut off from the rest of the world, unable to communicate, to understand or explore the possibilities available because they exist in another tongue, a realm you don’t have access to.
When you arrive to Comoros, you will be caught off guard by the beauty of the sea. The way the ocean sparkles and glimmers under the sun’s gentle shine, a vast treasure trove of winking diamonds. Yet, the first thing I was told was ‘Look at the ocean, it’s beautiful right? Now ask a Comorian what they see, it’s the end of their world.’ That sentiment sent chills through my spine. The ocean has always been a reminder of the infinite opportunities this world has to offer. The place I go to, to process, think and figure out just what my next move would be. It’s a steady reminder that I am not alone, there is more to this world then I have seen and it’s just waiting to be explored. Yet, for the people of these islands, it’s the opposite. When the only language you know is only spoken on these islands, where you can go is limited to the sandy shores of the island you’ve grown up on. The ocean is a barrier—the great divide between what you have and what you’ve always wanted. I’m fluent in English and Spanish and know quite a bit of French, the shore has always been a port in my head, a connection to another land that I can always take. That is the power of language, the freedom and security it provides, the knowledge that regardless of where you go in the world you’ll be able to connect, to build bridges, and understand more then just yourself.
Be Bold, Be Brave, Be-YOU-tiful