these are my “things”. items accumulated since arriving two months ago: seashells, a volcanic rock, a bracelet, a guayasamin print, a card from mom. if i’m contracted to come back in january i suspect i’ll bring a couple more books, photos, and maybe another pair of shoes, but not much. i’ll only be here a year or so. my cat might come too, mom says he misses me and goes nuts every time i call and he can hear my voice, and there aren’t any quarantine requirements between north and south america. i’m sweating like an absolute pig and this is the tail end of the “cold season”.
getting anything done in this city requires a fair amount of guesswork. this is a city of over two million with thousands of buses and routes and no bus map, nor any bus stops (a simple wave will do). if i stay a year, i hope to travel around south america as much as my salary allows…from chile to peru to colombia, maybe agentina and venezuela if i can afford it. if i’m here just till christmas, then my only goals are the cloud forest (a piedra blanca) and the northern coast (a canoa).
sometimes i get ahead of myself and think about where i’ll live when i go back to the states. new york or philly would be nice, or maybe some nameless town in oregon or wyoming. i don’t know, but it’s pointless to think about…so many things could change between now and then, and i’ve really got to kick this habit of always allowing my brain to wander off into the unknown. like perhaps instead of writing this crap i should do my spanish homework or continue writing my lesson plans…you wouldn’t believe the kinds of things you miss when you’re someplace entirely different for a while. they’re the tiniest, least significant things of all.
WHY LANGUAGE BARRIERS ARE NOT FUN
everybody always says things like; “oh, when you move to another country and are immersed in a language, you pick it up so quickly!” like it’s magic or something, i just sit and absorb words and vowel sounds and suddenly i can engage in meaningful conversation. well, let me tell you, it is not so easy, nor is it always a fun and exciting learning adventure. and this is coming from someone who is relatively skilled at learning and utilising language. here’s why:
1. i’m asocial to begin with. i get nervous about what to say to new people even when i know all the words i need to use. so, what happens when i meet new people and i’m uncertain about how to say what i want to say? nothing. i sit in my room and read or browse the internet and say “hola!” or “buenas!” whenever a roommate walks by my door. also, i can’t remember any of their names and i feel bad asking again, so i feel even more awkward.
2. confusion abounds. i was convinced, for the first week or two living with my host-family in kennedy norte, that the only reason they didn’t eat dinner with me was because they weren’t sure if i wanted to eat with them. but then they started having parties with family and friends and they would feed me first and send me upstairs and then the party would get started. also, i know a fair bit of spanish and they never, ever tried to engage in conversation with me. the only thing they ever said was: “kah-tee! venga a comer!” (katie! come to eat!). so…confusion resulted in me figuring out that, way too late in the game, the only reason they wanted me there was for the fifty bucks i shelled out every friday.
3. dating. it’s IMPOSSIBLE to flirt in a language you don’t know particularly well (i’ve tried), and i’m pretty terrible at flirting in english, anyway. it’s also hard to flirt in your own language if person you’re flirting with is the speaker of another language…even if their english is decent, all of those little subtleties and hints get lost in translation, or simply cause the person to be confused unless they happen to know cultural or linguistic idioms. you can’t use cute slang if the person hasn’t got a clue what you’re talking about. ALSO it just makes things more awkward, and i hate awkward. when you’re struggling for words, there are so many pauses, and pauses can get weird. you can’t be sauve (can i even be suave in english?) and it’s hard to be yourself when you’re speaking english to a cute boy but have to simplify everything you say so that they understand. it kind of abolishes any sense of spontaneity you might have when you have to plan every word that comes out of your mouth…the list goes on. perhaps i should just abandon flirting, get trashed, and go right in for the kill. it would save a lot of time.
4. no matter how smart you are, you sound kind of stupid until you’re fluent, and fluency takes…a while. there’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to say something but not knowing how, and so you have to simplify your thoughts or ideas until they’re something akin to what a kindergartner might come up with.
now…it’s not always so bad, my direct supervisor doesn’t speak any english, so talking to her is always good practice, the nude models that will come into my class likely won’t speak any english, and i’ve got to be good with them so save them from any potential embarrassments in front of a class of twenty-something-year-old boys. i have lots of ecuadorian friends who i could (and should) arrange 30 minute conversation-practice-dates with, where NO english is allowed! and as for the dating dilemas, i know enough spanish where i might just ask men to speak to me in spanish most of the time, unless things get really complicated…don’t ask me why but even when a mediocre-looking man speaks to me in spanish, i get a little excited…and if he’s attractive, well then…i just lose all traces of logical thought.