Thursday, April 6, 2017

Love, in Four Words

Overseen in Roma Norte-"Full belly, happy heart."
I´d like to think that food classifies as it´s own love language. 

    One of my favorite aspects about living an immersive language experience is learning more about how linguistic differences are both born from and reflect cultural differences. Although Spanish and English are similar languages in many ways, (both use the same alphabet, generally similar grammar structure, etc...), there are also many differences. One of the greatest differences I have noticed is that in Spanish, there are more nuanced ways to express things, with more specific phrases and terminology for a concept than exist in English. 
  A recurring conversation I have had with Nef and Danny, friends, coworkers, and other members of my host community, is how one of the most universal experiences is expressed differently in English and Spanish: love. In Spanish, there are four different verbs that can be used to say "like/love": gustar, encantar, querer, and amar. Gustar is more often used for objects/activities, not people, and translates to "like": for example, Me gusta tocar el piano-"I like to play the piano". Encantar, would translate to "enchant", and is also used as "like", but in a stronger way-generally, also for objects/activities, and not people. Me encanta tocar el piano would be more equivalent to saying "I really, really, REALLY like playing the piano". Querer translates to "want", but is also used when you tell someone you love them-Te quiero. However, this is where a key linguistic and cultural difference plays in.

     The other, stronger way to say “I love you” is Te amo, from the verb amar. When I was in Spain, I was told that Te amo was something only reserved for between romantic partners-in Spain, you would never say Te amo to your parents, for example. But here in Mexico, saying Te amo can be used outside of a romantic context, and implies a deeper connection, whereas Te quiero is a phrase that doesn't quite translate in English. Te quiero means "I love you", but, for me, would translate more specifically to "I have deep feelings of affection for you and really, really care about you".

    When people ask me what are my favorite things about Mexico, I talk about my host community and the warmth of the culture here. The stereotype held by some Mexicans of US Americans is that we are a more reserved, less demonstrative culture, which I believe is reflected in our use of the word "love". My uncle, who is British, was very critical of that aspect of US culture when he first starting dating my aunt. She remembers him commenting to her in their early days of dating, "Jen, if you say you love chocolate, and then say you love me, how am I supposed to know you feel differently about chocolate than about me if you use the same word? You Americans use the word love too freely."

    On the other hand, people here are often surprised when I say that although in the US we use the word "love" very freely when describing our liking of a food, band, movie, etc...we don't have the Te quiero equivalent, and telling someone who is not a romantic partner or family member "I love you" can sometimes come off as awkward. When I was talking to Danny about my roommates´ visit, he was shocked to hear that I didn't say "I love you" to three of my closest friends.
    "Well," I told him, "in my experience, in US culture, sometimes saying “I love you" to someone who is not your partner or a family member can come off as a little strong".
    "But if you don´t tell them you love them, how do they know?", he responded.
     Which got me different about all the different ways that I have seen love expressed and received, both personally and within my host communities, even when the words “I love you” weren't directly spoken. I think that, regardless of cultural context, it is important to recognize and respect how people prefer to be loved and cared for. Some people specifically need to hear hear “I love you”-for others, a better expression of love could be someone helping them with the laundry. I grew up in a family that greatly valued physical affection-my mom's best friend once commented that my family was like a litter of puppies when we are all together. Here in Mexico, personal space bubbles are smaller (and not just on the metro at rush hour), and a common greeting between women or between a man and a woman is a kiss on the right cheek and a hug. As someone who thrives on physical affection, I quickly became comfortable with this cultural difference, but I have heard from other US-expats that it took them more time to get used to it. Looking back on the arc of this year so far, and forward towards the three months I have remaining, it has been beautiful for me to look back on the many specific ways I have received and continue to receive love this year:
  • When my friends Luis and Aymet drove 40 minutes out of their way to drop me off at my house, just to make sure I got home safe
  • When my friends Clem and Daniel invited me to go dancing with their group of friends at the beginning of my year, when they knew I was feeling a little lost and lonely
  • When my friend Anabel took the time to take me to her favorite taco place in the city after work, despite the traffic and the rain 
  • When my co-worker Noé learned I had studied piano, and insisted we form an office band
Jamming with the Eucumenical All-Stars 
  • When our office chef, Doña Marie, shows concern when I don´t try all of the dishes at lunch
  • When Antonia, my pastor´s wife, welcomed me in and took care of me for a weekend after I had spent that Friday up all night with food poisoning 
  • When my pastor, Miguel, updated me on the UNC-Oregon score this past Saturday when I couldn't watch the game, and invited me to watch the NCAA final at his house (and fellow Tar Heels, if that is not true love, I don't know what is)

Prepping for a Tar Heel victory 
With my favorite honorary Tar Heel 

  • When my friends Sonia and Noemi invited me to their home in Tlaxco for a weekend and made me feel like family
Visiting Sonia and Noemi´s family in Tlaxco. 

Celebrating Sonia and Noemi´s new book!
  • How the staff at the CEE greet every single person with a hug when they arrive, and insist on taking the time to celebrate every birthday with cake and gelatina
Celebrating an office birthday. 
  • The time, money, and energy my three college roommates spent to come down to Mexico City for a week
With my roommates at Castillo de Chapultepec. 
  • The accompaniment of my friends in the States and in other YAGM countries, via FB messages, Whatsapps, and and waking up early/staying up late for blurry Skype calls 
  • The unwavering support of my parents and family, who have always inspired me to keep exploring, even when that means being far from them
Hanging with my families. 
  • The calm reassurance and encouragement of my boyfriend Garrett, who has encouraged me to pursue my dreams, not just this year, but for the past four

Exploring Teotihuacán with Garrett.
  • Celebrating the twins´ first birthday with my country coordinators  
  • When my fellow YAGMex volunteers take the time to check in with me, sharing in both the good moments and the bad
YAGMex fam at our Xmas celebration. 
  • The sense of community in my church here in Mexico, Iglesia Luterana del Buen Pastor, as well as emails and messages of support from my church communities back in NC

My church community at Iglesia Luterana del Buen Pastor, celebrating a baby shower.
  • I could have written an entire list just of the ways that Nef and Danny have loved and cared for me this year-Nef insisting that I eat a fifth piece of toast, doing a ridiculous dance in the metro to cheer me up when he knows I´ve had a rough day, and telling me to put on a sweater because "Hace frio", even when it's 65 degrees outside; Danny brushing my hair, taking the time to cook the best enchiladas I have ever had, because he knows they are my favorite, and telling me that everything will be ok; staying up late to talk with me even when they are bone-tired from work; spending the day together in Los Dinamos, even when Nef had approaching exams; helping me with my grammar; every time they call me their hija; the hospitality they have shown to my visitors; listening to me and supporting me as I wrestle with personal and professional discernment; and all the hugs, laughter, jokes, meals, metro rides, museum visits, church services, tears, dishwashing, and (extra)ordinary moments we have shared these 8 months. If I know anything for certain from this year, it is that God was watching out for me when S/He made the three of us us a family.

Danny´s enchiladas!

Hanging out at Parque Nacional de los Dinamos 

Mis corazones 

    In our YAGM orientation in Chicago, YAGM staff and alum encouraged us to find "the magnificent in the mundane"-the hand of God moving in small, everyday moments. Although these moments listed here may not be earth-shattering or make any sort of news, they are the threads that form the fabric of my life and experience here. With far less time ahead of me than behind in my year here, it can be easy for me to get too caught up in planning future next steps. However, I know that part of my call this year is to be fully present as much as I can until I board that plane back to NC on July 7th. Until then, I find hope and strength in all the different ways I have been loved during my year here, and from a quote I recently taped to my mirror:

"No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear
But, grateful, take the good I find
the best of now and here."'
-John Greenleaf Whittier

1 comment:

  1. Well said! You are a very strong writer to say the least :) love your comments!