What gets lost in translation

This is the second of five posts about travel that celebrate the launch of my online class, Manifest Money for Spiritual Travel.

I saw the Americans walk through the orphanage’s gate and my need to express myself was as strong as the thirst that plagues a dessert nomad when he spots an oasis. It had been weeks since I’d had a full conversation in my native language, and I could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect. Representatives from an American NGO were visiting the orphanage in India where I’d been volunteering full-time, teaching English to the boys that lived there. I had learned Hindi quickly out of necessity: there was only one other person at the orphanage who spoke English and she was only there a few hours each weekday, while I lived there 24/7 for nearly two months.  So, I found myself playing games with eight-year-olds, whose fascination with me never weakened.  You’d be amazed how much vocabulary you can pick up playing Crazy Eights and Sorry.

I knew the Americans would love the orphanage. It was easy to be charmed by the hope embodied by the boys. They were smart, optimistic, and despite their troubled childhoods, determined to enjoy life.  The NGO staff (whose organization provided a large amount of funding to the orphanage) were being shown around the place, their guide describing (in English) the numerous ways the orphanage provided a new start. Education, three square meals a day, a chance to escape the horrible working conditions many of them had been forced into by their poor families. The boys were sitting in the classroom, drawing with brand new colored pencils on brand new sketch pads, both donated by the charitable visitors.

“Here you can see where the students learn English,” said the guide, pointing to the blackboard where the remnants of my earlier lesson remained. 

I eat lentils.  You eat lentils.  We eat lentils.  She eats lentils.  He eats lentils.  They eat lentils.

There was also my hand drawn sketch of lentils, which at second glance looked more like rabbit turds.  No wonder the students were learning so slowly.  Still, by breaking down my own language to teach, I had also picked up tons of Hindi and could understand when the guide spoke to the boys.

“You can see the boys are busy making art,” she said to the Americans, “as they do every week.”  That was a boldfaced lie.  I had never before seen the boys draw on anything except their chalk slates for class.  I looked up slightly alarmed and saw the guide looking down at the drawings in progress, scanning for one she could showcase to the guests.  She looked around and then frowned.  She hadn’t found what she was looking for.


“Boys,” she snapped, in Hindi.  “No more flowers and sunshine.  You should draw your old life, where you came from, so these visitors can see how much they’ve helped you. I want to see the life of a child laborer on these papers.”  Some of the boys looked up from their works of art, other continued on without worry, and one in the back took the black pencil he had been using to color the hair on his stick figure people and scribbled out the entire drawing. Annoyed by their indifference, the guide said, again in Hindi, “Boys do you understand what I said?”

Ha didi,” they responded.  “Hama samajhat hai.”  Yes, Auntie.  We understand.

“When they have finished,” the guide turned to her unsuspecting guests, “they would like to share what they’ve drawn with you.”

It was then, for the first time, that I understood the importance of a good story when fundraising.  And how cruel life can be.  And how awesome it is to speak a second language.  I am grateful for the Hindi that I once spoke fluently, even though by now, I’ve forgotten almost all of it.

Did you know that you can make a lot of good money teaching English abroad?  Lesson 2 in my new online course, Manifest Money for Spiritual Travel, gives a lot of great information on how you can make it happen.  Enroll today and learn 8 different ways you can make money traveling.

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