Tuesday, November 11, 2008

awkward in any language

Well, I didn’t get to post my last entry in La Vega as planned, since the power went out at the Internet center just as I got settled at a computer. We all glanced around, waiting to see if an inversor was going to kick in, but the lab encargada made a throat-cutting hand gesture, understandable in any language, and we all grumpily filed out of the center.

Aside from that, though, it was a pretty successful trip. I went to the post office, where how much it costs to send a letter to the US depends mainly on what size the envelope appears to be, what the clerk’s friend thinks it should cost, and how successfully I am able to make the case that “Siempre cuesta veinte pesos!” (It’s always 20 pesos! Which is clearly not true, as evidenced by the fact that I have to bargain over postage every time. But it is frequently 20 pesos, and I believe it should always be 20 pesos, coño.) Arianna and I had some delicious lunch at our favorite restaurant, and received the best piropo ever: some guy yelled “Americanas!!” at us, which we ignored. Then he followed it up with an excited “Ganó Obama!” (Obama won!) By this point we’d already gone past him, so we couldn’t really acknowledge it, but it was a welcome change from the usual “Americana, te quiero, tu eres preciosa, que linda…”

I had a good weekend after that, too. Everyone showed up for English class on Saturday morning, despite the two-week break. I’ve been following a basic English syllabus that Peace Corps gave us, complete with handouts. This week the theme was hotels & restaurants, and I spent way too long trying to define “concierge” in Spanish. I mean, let’s be real, I barely know what a concierge does in English. I ended up telling the kids something like, “He is someone who works only in expensive hotels. He can help you make a reservation at a nice restaurant, or… find a theatre.” Then the students asked, “Is he a receptionist? Is he a waiter?” “No… those are different people. His job is only to help people find things.” “Is he a tour guide?” “No… he helps people, but he doesn’t leave the hotel.” (Meanwhile, the only time I’ve ever stayed in a hotel nice enough to have a concierge was in Chicago, where I shared it with about 10 other people after a Tori Amos concert, and I had to ask the concierge how to get to the aquarium using public transportation.) We finally decided that there isn’t a Spanish word for concierge, the kids wrote down “guide who doesn’t leave the hotel” on their vocab sheets, and I mentally shook my fist at whoever put “concierge” on the Peace Corps basic English syllabus.

Another exciting adventure in beginner’s Spanish happened when I visited my host family and we talked a little bit about the election…

Doña: It’s strange that a black man won!
Me: But it’s exciting! Barack Obama is from my state, Illinois!
Don: But his father is African.
Me: Yes, but Obama was the senator from Illinois.
Don: He is African, but also American?
Me: Yes, exactly.
Don: (Recalling an earlier conversation we’d had about Americans, when I said my family was originally German but we were still Americans, and how all Americans are from somewhere else except the Native Americans) All Americans are from somewhere else.
Me: Except the Native Americans.
Don: The Indians!
Me: Yes, the Indians.
Host sister: Is it true that the government gave land to the Indians?
Me: Ummm… well… it’s complicated. The government stole land from the Indians… well first of all, there are many groups of Indians, and each one has different… agreements… with the government… and sometimes the government… doesn’t do what it says it will do.
Don: It doesn’t comply with its treaties?
Me: Yes, exactly. Anyway, so some groups of Indians got pieces of land from the government where they can live. But it isn’t enough.

… Anyway, it went on in that awkward fashion for awhile. Later, I talked to my friend Keane about how I felt bad being unable to fully explain the situation, and also how I wanted to make it clear that while my government had done this, it wasn’t something I supported. He told me I shouldn’t worry about it too much, since their government did the same thing to the Haitians. Oh, what a world.

The only other thing I have to report is that we’ve been having tons of electricity here lately! The power will go off and then come back 20 minutes later, instead of 3 hours later! We’re having at least 16 hours a day of power. It’s so weird. The tradeoff—since every silver lining must have its cloud--is that we haven’t really had running water for about a week now. I’m doing fine, since I have a cistern—and we must be getting occasional running water, since the cistern has refilled at least once this week. My neighbors with their working tinacos are doing fine, but since I haven’t been able to refill my tinaco (I don’t have a pump, so I can only fill it when there’s running water and I physically turn the knob), I’ve been making do with buckets. It’s a pretty good workout—if we keep being low on agua de la calle (“water from the street,” which is what we call running water. The first time I mentioned “water from the street” to my mom, she thought I was drinking out of a gutter or something), I’m going to have really buff arms.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

On last nights ep of The Office, Michael Scott was confused as to what a concierge is as well.. he thought it meant geisha!