It’s Quechua to me

Noqac wasaymi nisuta nnanan. Imatan ruwayman?

You probably recognize that the above isn’t Spanish. But it’s also not a scrambled line from a Dr. Seuss book, nor is it a backmasked Grateful Dead track. In fact, it’s one of the more common questions we hear during house visits in the Quechua-speaking communities we support: “My back has been hurting a lot. What should I do?”

And our non-Peruvian staff members can’t understand it.

That doesn’t much matter, though, with our Quechua-speaking promotoras guiding the conversations during house visits. However, community coordinators often accompany promotoras to house visits to provide support, and they’d be lost without the promotoras’ translations. Promotoras often translate community members’ questions from Quechua to Spanish, so their coordinators can work with them to ask follow-up questions. We manage the language barrier, but we would be even more effective if we spoke, or at least understood, Quechua.

Learning Quechua will allow us to ease cultural differences, enhance our rapport with community members, and strengthen our relationships with the promotoras. For these reasons, and for pure enjoyment, our exceedingly patient Peruvian staff will begin giving us weekly Quechua lessons! Starting this week, Head Nurse Leticia and Community Coordinator Escolastica are offering a one-hour class to teach the basics of the native language of the Cusco region.

All of the material taught during training sessions is translated into Quechua as well, here by Escolastica.
All of the material taught during training sessions is translated into Quechua as well, here by Escolastica.

“We will need to start with salutations,” declared Leticia, who grew up speaking Quechua in her home. From there, we’ll progress to more specialized vocabulary associated with health. Little by little, we’ll begin to recognize words and phrases spoken in the communities, hopefully becoming less dependent on promotoras’ translations. The aim is that one day “hayka p’unchay nanarasuynki wasayki?” (when did your back begin hurting?) will flow like our mother tongue.

I read that last line to Leticia, and she laughed and repeated, “We’ll start with salutations.”

Christiana intently takes notes as Leticia teaches us useful Quechua phrases.
Christiana intently takes notes as Leticia teaches us useful Quechua phrases.
Enjoying our first Quechua lesson.
Enjoying our first Quechua lesson.

Written by Courtney Weintraub

 

 

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