You don’t have to learn English, Pulau Weh, Sumatra, Indonesia

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While travelling English is necessary, like a passport. This is why when a tourist doesn’t know it – I am surprised. But when someone who works with tourists doesn’t know English – I am frustrated. Translations through hands and sign language, speaking slowly and loudly (I don’t know why everyone seems to think that when we speak to somebody like to an idiot – letter after letter – all of a sudden that person will understand an unknown to them speech) is tiring and not always effective.
I understand that I must be patient, but there is a moment when there is only one thought in my head: how can they? This person lives off tourists; can’t they learn basic phrases (for instance, how much is the room)?
One time I witnessed the event that made me stop asking the question “how can they?” and instead to think “what can I do?” And whether my expectation that someone will adapt to me is a symptom of my own laziness and a lack of patience.
I entered a shop and noticed my Spanish friend, who was waving his hands, making faces, nodded, patted on the shoulder with understanding – and in response the guy in front did exactly the same.
After some time I realised that his friend is… profoundly deaf.
They looked as if they were gossiping.

“When I met him two months ago – I also didn’t understand anything. The first impulse was that I turned away and left. Then I thought that probably everybody does it, and he feels very lonely, so I started coming to his shop almost every day to exchange a few “words”. He very much likes when people talk to him and I really wanted to please him – to show him that he’s important. So slowly we learnt common gestures.”
Of course, for a long time I’ve known that in communication the intention of the conversation is more important than the words themselves, but observing how two people found time and space to create a common language showed me that we really don’t try too hard every day.
The intention is more important than grammar – Joel told me about the conversation, explaining the gestures:
Pulling an ear – a woman
Moving a hand across the head, as if stroking hair – a blonde girl with long hair
Several jumps in one place (like a kangaroo) – from Australia
Swinging a hand – she was here yesterday
Tapping the watch and showing one finger – for an hour
Curling the fingers, like Italians do when they show that something tastes good and then covering face with the entire hand – there were many people, so I was ashamed to talk for a long time
Waving a hand (a sign that nothing has happened) – But she will come back and she told me to say hello.

I felt very ashamed with this situation. My impatience is often bigger than my empathy… It was beautiful to watch, that someone found time to stop and learn someone’s “English”.

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