Outreach’s Content Manager, Dave Coates, visited some partner communities in Nicaragua recently, and had the pleasure of meeting Ramiro Arana, a native Nicaraguan who recently began working as a translator for the staff there. On his last night in the country, they sat down in front of a gigantic plate of assorted meats for dinner and some light conversation.
Ramiro Arana can’t stop. In addition to working as a translator for Outreach’s Nicaraguan team, Alcance International, he owns and operates company that gives tours around his country, studies architecture at university, and, in his free time, works to learn even more languages (he is currently fluent in Spanish and English, and speaks a little French and German, with plans to master both those last two languages, as well as Mandarin Chinese in the coming year). He’s accomplished more in his 26 years than many people do in a lifetime.
Though Ramiro’s restless intellect would surely have blossomed regardless of a catalyst, a chance childhood encounter with an Outreach field team member is what put him on his path towards success. Considering his talent for language, it seems fitting that he should be the one to tell his story.
Help Them Help Me Help Them
“My story begins when Alcance Nicaragua came to work in my community when I was really young. When I first saw them, I was concerned about the fact that there were people around me speaking in a different way, and that I couldn’t understand them. Right now, I’m speaking English, but back then, I only spoke Spanish.”
“I couldn’t understand how other people could speak in a different way. I asked someone what was going on. ‘Why are they speaking so differently, if all people are the same?’ This person explained languages to me, and that there were many other languages in the world. I told them, ‘Well, I’m going to speak all the languages when I grow up.’ Something I’m not sure I’ll be able to do, but I’ll give it a try. Eventually, Alcance left our community, but I never forgot them.”
“Then, one day years later while I was at work at the tourist agency I own in Granada, Ricardo [Alcance staff member] was walking by, and my sister, who also remembered Alcance from her youth, saw him and struck up a conversation. Ricardo asked if I spoke English, and he told me about a bit of freelance work they had, translating some documents from English to Spanish, and vice-versa.
I’m just about to finish university, and I plan to party for the next four years. I just found out about partying, and I love it. Plus, I’ve earned it.” This seems oddly unambitious, compared to the rest of his stated goals. He clarifies that by ‘partying,’ he means, “I will be enjoying myself studying languages— that’s what I want to do with my rest. I’m going to learn two languages this year, and work with Alcance.
“I did a lot of text translation for the team, and they eventually asked if I would join them to do translating for a team visiting from the US. I told them I would be glad to help; that’s the main idea that drives me: just helping.”
At this point, Ramiro’s phone rings, chirping a charming bit of classical music at an extraordinarily loud volume. He holds up an index finger— just a moment— and takes a call in which whatever few words are said at the outset by the party on the other end is met with an instant flurry of Spanish; confident direction delivered without hesitation. He ends the call without saying goodbye. This will happen a few more times during our chat. Ramiro is incredibly in-demand.
Business concluded for the moment, he switches back to English to recall a part of his early days he forgot to mention earlier: “When I first got the chance to study English, I took it; I really wanted to study. There was a different NGO [Non-Government Organization] who worked in my community, and they were sponsoring English classes for ten kids. I was not part of that group, but they were going to have the classes in my community. It was perfect for me, since I didn’t want to leave the community, because I was really shy.” Here, he laughs warmly, as he often does. “I don’t know what happened to me since then— now I’m on the other side of that. My sister started paying for my English classes, and after about six months, I had finished the whole year’s coursework, according to my teacher. He talked to the CEO of the NGO, and they gave me a scholarship. I studied for about five years, and out of 11 kids, I was the only one who finished it. I think I really took advantage of it.”
Ramiro’s phone rings again. Just a moment. Another quick blast of Spanish, another call ended without much ceremony, and he turns back to the interview.
“I’m a little different from everyone; I’ve always been like this, since I was a little kid. When I had free time in high school, I used to go out on the street or wherever else to look for vocabulary. I’d write it down and translate it, then go to my teacher the next day to ask about pronunciation.”
“If you speak English, you can speak to people from many other countries. If you speak German, same thing— you can go to many places in Europe. Since I speak Spanish, too, I cover all of Europe. Then, I need French, because France speaks it, you know, and then in Belgium, I can go there too, because I speak French, and then Mandarin for Asia. So I cover most of the world. I can speak sign language, too, but only the letters. I don’t know the phrases in sign language.” He says this with a tone that implies it’s only a matter of time.
All Talk, All Action
He explains his days working for a company that gave tours around Nicaragua, how his English mastery allowed him to name his own salary there, how his head for business and eye towards the future brought him to start his own successful tour company, before handing it off to his sister to give himself more time for his studies and other ambitions. He says these things rapidly, always moving on to the next thing before doubling back to include some detail that clarifies his motivations for subsequent accomplishments. It is almost as if he is pushing against the limits of language itself in his excitement about how many things there are in the world to do and see. His ambitions clamber over one another as he tries to put them in order.
Money doesn’t make— what’s the saying? ‘Money doesn’t make happiness?’ But it helps so much. That’s what I say in Spanish, ‘Money helps so much.’ Me, I don’t move for money. I just need enough to meet my needs and some mode of transportation. Mainly, I want to do things to help people in the communities [in which Alcance works]. That’s what I want; not money.”
“You know what you need? You just need the courage to do this stuff. Here’s another thing: I might be fine now, but I won’t be forever. You’ve got to think about the future.” He doesn’t say so, but this thinking is the entire motivation behind Outreach’s efforts. Ramiro never stops thinking about the future, either.
“My family doesn’t have a business or source of work. There are a lot of people who want to work, but can’t, and they don’t have a chance. If I don’t do it, no one will. Right now, we have 10 employees [at my tour company]. I’ll hire more if I have to. I want to.”
As if on cue, his phone rings one last time. At this point, it’s understood that he’ll just be a moment. He listens briefly, rattles off some instructions, and hangs up, turning back to our conversation. “I’m always making plans,” he says.