How would I communicate without any knowledge of the local language?
It didn't take long to tap into it. It's in the conscientious eye contact, the dynamic tone of voice and the perpetual expression of body language. There is no code, no rules, and no prepared learning. Rather it's a situational, on-the-fly, real life game of charades.
For me, it has taken intuition, openness to my emotional expression, a willingness to continually dive into uncertainty, but most of all a commitment to patience.
A Universal Language
How would you translate, a need, desire, or question, with no shared dialect?
Connecting with the locals is absolutely necessary for solo traveling, especially if you want spontaneity and adventure. And I've found the locals are more than happy to help you. Not only do they lend assistance, yet whether you're lost in the forest, or driving through crowded streets (sorry Fellowship advisors), they seem to always know the way.
But to be able to communicate, without having any shared language, requires understanding the subtleties of communication. Nothing replaces a smile or a look of concern. Engagement is engagement and unresponsiveness is unresponsiveness, in any part of the world. The taxi driver knows the look of a lost soul, as well as he knows the look of a busy, consumed traveler looking for anything but a taxi. And then there is the shrug and consequential laughter, which signifies the language barrier can't be broken and the white flag is to be waved. In these times you say thank you, place trust in the process, and pray for someone with better English to come on your path.
With every interaction, you get better at both tuning into universal language and also picking up on small phrases in the local language, which help to steer your sails in the right direction.
I find, universal language is most important not when you need a taxi, or to bargain, but rather when you need an explanation, assistance, or a friend. In these moments universal language gives you a bridge to the other side of your dilemma, where previously there was none. And when used properly it affords for a human connection like no other.