Palau: Now You're Speaking my Language...

New Flag up the Mast!  Welcome to Palau!
“What language are you speaking?” I naively asked the customs officers who were sitting in our cockpit, chatting with each other while checking us into Palau.  

“Uh.  Palauan?”  It came out more of a question than an answer.  The look they shot me assured me that they thought I was a complete and total idiot.

Right.  Palauan.  Of course.  Learn somethin’ new everyday!

So, yes, for those other idiots out there in the world who might not know, there is a Palauan language spoken here, but everyone also speaks *English*.  American English!  We can easily talk to anyone and everyone we want - and we do!  Just like those old folks who hold up the grocery line talking to the check-out clerk, we indulge ourselves by asking everyone we come in contact with anywhere between 1 and 1,000 questions.  

Where are you from?
How long have you lived here?  
What has changed here since you were young?
Where can we find the best lunch at the best price?
Which one is your favorite dive site?
And on and on and on.

Chatting with a dive guide on the dock as he awaits his next set of guests

American flags flying around us once again!!
 This simple novelty - effortless communication - has enabled us to meet some fascinating people here.  At the dive shop, we’ve met experts in underwater photography and asked about the gear they use.  Others are instructors in diving with re-breathers, so we ask all about that system and how it works.  A TV production team happens to be here shooting the spawning of the red snapper, and that starts another string of questions and new information.  One guy runs a local fish hatchery, so he collects fertilized eggs and raises them for commercial aquariums!  How cool is that?  Oh, and we meet the chief engineer of the newest research vessel from San Diego, ask him a million questions and probably drive him nuts - ’til he finally invites us to come for a personal tour of the ship. 

"Chief" giving us our below deck tour of the Sally Ride research vessel

Shared language.  That’s all it took.  Well, maybe it was more the lack of a shared language we’ve experienced in so many places that made us hungry to start up all these conversations in Palau.  We’ve traveled through countries where we learned the words and phrases we needed to survive and make small talk, but rarely did we dive into deep conversations or find out much more than the small talk basics.  I realize only now how much we have missed - the stories, the connections, the deeper learning that can only come through intimate conversations with someone who shares a common language.  

It also makes me think about the conversations that no longer even get started in places where people do speak the same language.  Those questions that never get asked.  Those connections with another human being that don’t happen because there’s not enough time in the day or not enough margin in that ever-pressing agenda.  

A McDonalds in Malaysian Borneo, notice the demise of the ice cream left to melt as he scrolls...

Remember those days when people used to actually talk to the person next to them on the airplane?  Yeah, we’ve all been stuck next to the guy who can’t read social cues and won’t stop talking, but haven’t we also been surprised by the story our seat mate had to tell or the crazy six-degrees of separation that a conversation with a stranger eventually unveiled?  

Traveling has made me appreciate the blessings of a common language.  Back in the US, sure,  I could talk to everyone, but I didn’t.  Now that I’m back in an English-speaking country, though, after years struggling through broken conversations in numerous foreign languages, I can’t stop wondering what stories are waiting to be told.  If you’re in a hurry, just don’t get behind me at the checkout counter!  

A view of the gorgeous waters surrounding Palau

How did these huge stones get here?  A garden of megaliths offers more questions than answers.


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