For the month of January, I’m participating in Bloganuary, a daily blogging challenge.
Today’s Bloganuary prompt:
What is a treasure that’s been lost?
Immediately, my mind goes to people whose more recent deaths left a hole in the world’s heart: Maya Angelou, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Betty White. Of course, I could go back even further in history and list out all the people that were treasures of humanity, but that’s not how I want to answer the question.
Instead, I feel more called to be more abstract in my response. For that, I need the definition of treasure.
1. any thing or person greatly valued or highly prized
One of my fondest memories while traveling is when I was hungry and needed dinner in a small, Tibetan village. I hesitantly poked my head into a hole-in-the-wall place that I suspected was restaurant. The two elderly women eating noodle at a small table in the corner confirmed my suspicions. When a third woman appeared from behind a draped sheet, she may have been surprised to see a tourist, but she knew why I was there.
As was my custom traveling through Tibet, I first asked “Tashi delek? Ni hao?” in order to determine whether I needed to communicate in Tibetan or Mandarin, respectively. She echoed emphatically in the former, which meant I had exhausted all my Tibetan language abilities. But, I always do my best to come prepared. So I pulled out a small, folded up piece of paper that had the phrase “I am vegetarian” written in Tibetan. The woman flashed a look of concern, stuck up a finger instructing me to wait, and then ducked behind the curtain.
A younger man, presumably her son, appeared in her place. He looked at my paper, thought for a second, and then excitedly ushered me behind the draped sheet. I was standing in the middle of a small kitchen.
He pulled back a towel cover a large bowl to reveal a mound of noodles, and then looked at me for what I could only assume was my approval. I nodded and smiled. Then he pulled out a small bunch of green onions, and again waited for me to signal that the ingredient worked for me. He was wracking his brain for anything vegetarian he had to offer! I grinned broadly and nodded with more gusto.
Then he froze. He had run out of food ideas. I didn’t particularly like the idea of having a dinner of noodles and green onions, so I thought eggs could help round out the meal and add some much-needed protein. I drew from my charades experience and pretended to crack an egg. He beamed his understanding, and I could tell he was excited to get started with cooking.
I returned to the tiny dining room, and sat at the only other table, across from the soup-eating women. They were mesmerized by the unfolding scene, and looked on just as inquisitively for my mystery meal to arrive.
The young man came out with a bowl of noodle soup, green onions floating throughout, and a fried egg placed on top. He also gave me a small bowl of peanuts. It was an incredibly delicious meal. I savored it, literally, that night, and have been doing so, figuratively, in the years since.
There was something magical in the way we came together to communicate. We only knew how to say “Hello” to each other, and yet, we had such a wonderful conversation.
With real-time translation apps and services so widely available, I think these types of interactions are long-gone. Today, if I found myself in the same situation, I would have opened Google Translate on my iPhone, typed in what I wanted to say, and have the AI voice speak the translated words for me. The restaurant owners would have done the same for me.
The treasure of communicating across language barriers, without the assistance of technology, is lost. At least, it is for those without an extra bit of patience.