Years ago I was with a delightful family of people from a small village in another country.  The grandfather was fascinated by me and had a thousand questions, many of which I am not allowed to answer.  There is much argument about whether and how much medical interpreters should talk with patients, with answers ranging from never to whatever.  But in my setting at that time, we were allowed to converse as long as we NEVER gave medical advice or opinions, stayed away from giving opinions about anything such as politics and religion, and avoided oversharing personal information.

As someone who does not fit into the ethnic group for which I provide services, many conversations being with the patient asking me how I learned my language and where I myself come from.  Especially for smaller indigenous and traditional groups, knowing who my people are really matters to them.  I found some short answers that usually work without offending, then I deflected the conversation back to the patient.

This grandfather was asking me these same things and I ended up telling him my people come from a village where two languages are spoken.  He nodded sagely at me.  There are two languages spoken in his village – the indigenous language and the occupying language.  I told him it was the same in my family village.  He asked me to say the word tobacco, then horse, then rain, in both languages and noticed that they were very unalike indeed.  Just like his village’s two languages.

Then he said, “How far to walk?”

I looked puzzled, so he added, “How many hours?”

I was still confused, so he asked, “How many hours does it take for you to walk from here, this city, to your father’s village?”

I told him you cannot walk there from here.  You have to fly.  And you have to be in the air for about 15 hours.  For some reason, that was a delightful surprise to him, and he started chuckling and pretty soon the whole family was laughing about the village that you cannot walk to.  As far as they had all come to get here, it seemed impossible to them that anything could be that far away.