Language, and Love: A Story From Our Time At The New Creations Orphanage in La Paz

Last Updated on December 9, 2021 by Chris and Lindsay

No entiendo. If I were more crafty and creative with my hands I’d sew Lindsay a t-shirt or maybe make her a hat with those words on them.

That’s the name the kids gave Lindsay on Christmas Day, the day we arrived at the orphanage outside of La Paz and were greeted by a dozen smiling faces. 

They had our hearts at “hola”

These kids were so full of joy to have company on Christmas Day that we were immediately overwhelmed.

It took less than ten seconds for three or four girls to grab Lindsay by the hand and carry her off toward the garden. 

A couple of boys sized me up and I could see the wheels turning in the back of their eyes as they tried to determine if they could take me down, each one at a time or if it was better to go at it together. 

I kicked a flattened soccer ball toward them and immediately the rough edges melted and we were immersed in a ruleless game of kick the flattened soccer ball through the desert. 

That’s the difference between boys and girls, you know. Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice.

Boys are, well, they’re good at pretending to be tough when all they want to do is kick a ball around.

They say that when you try to learn a new language it is best to start conversations with kids.

Great, I thought. I’m learning Spanish for the 17th time. So I should certainly understand these kids. 

But the more the words rolled off their tongues the more I was overwhelmed with the sheer speed and breadth of vocabulary with which they spoke. 

I could pick up about every fourth or fifth word. Then I’d piece the sentences together in the way I thought they should go.

Kind of like finding a pile of dinosaur bones in the mud and trying to reconstruct the past from scratch. 

When I thought I had enough of this puzzle put together I’d say “Si” or “No” with the kind of enthusiasm that projected confidence in my understanding.

Sometimes, I found, I put enough together that I could sell the kids on my understanding.

Si, or no, was just enough to convince them to continue to rattle off a thousand words a minute and leave me picking up the dinosaur bones once again. 

Lindsay, on the other hand, picked up just about nothing.

Until the girls pointed at her and said, quite simply, “no entiendo.” 

The thing about kids is that the way they see the world is the way the world actually is. We, as adults, muddy up reality by layering our own thoughts and preconceived notions over it. 

Kids, for example, don’t understand why you don’t want to share a piece of food that has recently fallen on the floor. To them, food is food.

Which is true, of course.

It’s only when you become an adult and learn about various ways you could die from microbial infestations that food on the floor loses its eatability. 

Kids also don’t understand when you can’t speak their language. Words are words to them. And the older you get the more you should know. 

This is why they looked at us and were confused as to why I could only pick off 20-30% of the words while Lindsay stood there looking clueless, though cute. 

But we found – though I’d like to say we knew all along – that language, and Love, are two of the most difficult things to comprehend, but easiest to learn. 

You acquire both simply by trying. 

Lindsay always got a pass on only knowing the language of Love

The more we tried to understand the kids, the more we actually understood them. We may have only learned a few new words in our week at the orphanage.

But it was in recognizing how and when the words were used that things started to make more sense. 

Love, for us, was the same way. We knew we were in Love with these children from the moment they first grabbed Lindsay’s hand and walked her into the garden.

But the more we practiced Love, the harder it became to face the fact we would have to leave them one day.

And no words, none that we knew in English or in Spanish, would be able to explain to them why. 

The other difference between boys and girls is that girls are smarter than boys.

We noticed that the girls very quickly identified our shortcomings in understanding Spanish and so, as if we were babies, they changed their vocabulary with us. 

They slowed down their speech and it was as if they were cheering us on to understand them. 

The boys, on the other hand, didn’t understand why we couldn’t understand them.

They would rattle off a hundred words (or so we’d think, not really knowing which words were words in the first place) and then look at us with frustration and anger that we had deer-in-the-headlights eyes back at them.

They just found a flat soccer ball to kick around the desert until they forgot they were frustrated with us. 

It was the girls who gave Lindsay her name.

The same as we had named some of them “chicken” and “bano” and “chocolate” based on the basic words we knew and heard them say.

Lindsay repeated “No entiendo” so often that one time the name simply stuck. 

But that’s the thing about language, and Love. Regardless of how much you think you know, there’s always more to learn.

Even if you don’t actually entiendo… 

Saying goodbye to the children was the hardest part – in English and in Spanish

A postscript: As I read this story out loud to Lindsay she laughed and admitted she had a confession.

She had not in fact been saying “No entiendo,” which simply means “I don’t understand.”

Instead, she said “No tiendo,” which means absolutely nothing in Spanish. 

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