Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mi español es terible, pero mejor

“My Spanish is terrible, but better”

At the sort-of half-way point, I need to talk again about Spanish.  I've mentioned before that one of the biggest challenges is functioning as a normal person in a society that doesn't speak English.  (The actual #1 challenge of this year is being married, but that is a whole ‘nother post/novel.)  My Spanish is much better.  In meetings and in everyday conversations I understand about 60% of what I hear.  When I speak, I suspect that I’m understood about 40%.  My brain often thinks in Spanish (the words I think I know) and I have stopped trying to translate every word into English to understand.  Now, “mesa” is “mesa”.  Not, “mesa” is “table.”  And my English is definitely worse.

I have a Spanish tutor and he is painfully patient with me.  We normally meet three times a week.  I tell him what I did over the weekend (to practice my past tense) and what I plan to do next weekend (to practice my future tense) and now he knows my full life story, family tree, what vegetables I like to eat, my hobbies, and the name of every dog I've owned.  He is making me learn the English equivalent of past perfect participles, past imperfect, imperatives, subjunctives, past indefinite.... blah! and then something called pluscuamperfecto (which I have no idea how to explain because I don't understand it myself).  Any English teacher I've ever had can attest that I don't know this stuff in English, much less Spanish.  It is SO HARD.  Sometimes I love my tutor to death and sometimes I want to punch him in the throat.  I am certain the feeling is mutual.

When communicating with my co-workers, who are eager to learn English, I have to talk very slowly.  And when they speak to me in Spanish, they must also speak slowly.  It's weird how I've learned to do this.
















When I don't, I can tell by the look in their eye that what I said didn't register.  When I speak super slowly, we make progress.  And they do the same for me.  We have found a groove.  

At home, Davis’ Spanish beats us all.  According to everyone that meets him, he has no accent when he speaks and doesn't sound like a foreigner like us – he sounds like a native Peruano.  He is often our translator when we go out and boy does he love it.

My husband’s Spanish is worse than mine, but he tries.  He is from South Carolina and if you know him, you know that his English is also suspect.  I have to translate his English into English for others.

Over the past few months I've had hundreds of “Aha!” Spanish moments and fun interactions, but I thought I’d share three of them with you that represent themes of my day-to-day challenges, or at Heifer, we like to call them opportunities:

1.  I visited a project in Cusco in January (you can read about it here) and normally when Heifer staff from the Lima office or Headquarters office visit projects, they are expected to speak to the group.  I was ready.  I practiced my speech in Spanish and felt so good about what I was going to say and just got all proud....and I delivered it perfectly.  But the reception was still cold.  Like, crickets in the room kind of cold.  I didn't get it.  I looked over at my Heifer co-worker and she whispered gently "They speak Quechua here."  

Freakin' SIGH.

Quechua is one of the indigenous languages in the high Andean region.  The women I was addressing all spoke it and very little Spanish.  So, a project partner translated my perfectly prepared speech into Quechua and then I got a round of applause and warm smiles.  

2.  I’m not funny here and sarcasm and jokes don’t translate.  I think I’m humorous enough in English and can crack a good one here and there, but...  Not here, man.  Some of my best lines fall so flat, nothing but blank faces.  I feel like such an idiot.  I've told my tutor and coworkers a dozen times, "I promise I'm smart in English.  I promise I'm funny."  

Certain phrases that we use all the time in English just don’t translate here. While travelling in Puno with a film maker,  he (jokingly) called one of my co-workers a “sour-puss” and then told me to translate it.  She looked at me (as the English expert in her life) and wanted to know what  a sour-puss was.  Geeeeez.  Break those two words down.  How to explain that?  And I was like, “It’s someone who is real uptight.”  More blank stares.  Uptight?  The more I tried to explain, the deeper the hole I dug.

And finally...

3.  There is a street vendor near my office.  When I get off the bus most mornings I stop here and get a breakfast sandwich of some sort.  For weeks, I would stop and ask nicely “Pan con huevos, por favor?” or “Bread with eggs, please?”  

Or so I thought  

The dude always looked at me funny and I kinda had to fight for service/attention.  I didn’t get it.  What was I doing wrong? Why was he ignoring me?  One day my Spanish tutor and I were walking by the vendor and I stopped.  When I asked “Pan con huevos, por favor?” my tutor choked on his own tongue.  

The difference in pronunciation is small but the meaning is huge:  

'Huevos' is pronounced 'hway-vose'  and it means EGGS.

but I was actually saying....every day for weeks and weeks....

"Pan con huevon"  and 'huevon' is pronounced 'way-vone" and it means BALLS.  

My tutor, ever so gently told me “Don’t say that Jessica.  You’re not asking for bread with eggs.”  

Turns out, I’ve been asking all this time .....  for “bread with balls” – 

and not the soccer ones. 

Alrighty, so here is the only song I know about eggs but it just seems appropriate for some reason - and a Beatles one nonetheless that Davis likes to play air drums to. Performed by someone who is actually funny.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sew What?

Heifer International posted one of my stories on heifer.org.  It is called "Sew What?" and it details a recent experience I had in Cusco during a project visit.  

I can't copy the story on my blog, but you can follow the link below to read it.  I'm really proud that it was published, but I'm even more proud to have seen the great work that Heifer does to empower women.  If you like some Heifer, you'll like this story.  If you don't know much about Heifer, you should read it because it will help you understand what we do.  So....

Read it!

Share it!

Remember it.

Click HERE to read my story.

And, once you've read it, you can actually make a donation DIRECTLY to Heifer Peru.  Follow this link to give to Heifer Peru.  It is the greatest cause in the world.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Get me through December

“I promise I’ll remember.  Get me through December so I can start again.”

What a great song.  At the end of this post I’ll provide a link so you can hear it.  I sang it all month.  For some reason I kept saying those words to myself.  This is a one year gig.  Getting through December meant a lot of things for me.  It meant that I was halfway through this adventure.

There have been some downs and ups.  More ups, though, and I often need to remind myself when I'm getting down or insecure, that I made a few major changes in 2012.  Like...

I got married.
I gave my son a stepdad.
I quit my job.
I started a new job.
I moved to a different house.
I moved to a different country.
I moved to a different country that doesn't speak my language.
I got a haircut I didn't like.

The last 6 months have not been for the faint of heart. Take any ONE of these things and do it and see how it alters your life.  It isn't insignificant.  So at the risk of sounding egocentric, I’m going to pat myself on the back just a little bit right now and remind myself that I have done all of them at one time and I’m not failing too miserably at any of them and my hair has grown out nicely.

Okay, done with that.

In 2012, I did something else new - for me.  I threw a New Year’s Eve party.  It was small and intimate, but fun.  I almost always go to bed at about 9:45 on December 31st because I think the whole NYE thing is anticlimactic and pointless.  But hell, we’re in Peru and they like to rock it out so why not.  When in Rome…

My folks were here too and I knew they probably planned to go to bed at 9:45 too so it pushed us all out of our comfort zones.  A few of my bestest Peruvian girlfriends helped and we decorated our home in the Peruvian custom of all things dressed in yellow. 

On NYE in Peru you have to wear yellow underwear for good luck and happiness.  Or red underwear for love, green for money, and white for health or fertility.  You’re supposed to eat 12 grapes and make a wish after each one.  You also distribute small amounts of rice to everyone present and everyone keeps it in their pocket.  And you’re supposed to drink Pisco.  The Cliftons and Hugheses complied with it all!  Davis was the only kid there and he was great.  He is good at hanging with adults.  We danced and laughed and counted down and watched the fireworks from our terrace.  It was a great time and I’m glad we did it.  Here are some photos from the night…

Davis and Granny help prepare the house decor while I give instructions from the couch.  
Davis is prepared and ever so handsome.
One perk of having a photographer husband is that when he has his camera in his hand, he is conscious and thoughtful....and captures moments like this when you don't know it.  
Preparing more yellow
You think this boy will remember all this?  I sure hope so.
Having a good time
From our terrace.  The fireworks went on all night long.  Not bad, huh?
The finest Peruvian ladies you'll ever meet.
And I don't know any of these people.  Honestly.
Remember how I said we made our own ornaments for our tree?  Yeah....
I did punk out a little bit though.  I went to bed at 2:00 am and left everyone to their partying.  I was just so tired.  But wouldn't you know, those folks cleaned up before they left.  I woke up to a clean house.  I can't think of a better start to a new year.

All of this to say, Happy New Year everyone, on February 3rd.  Halfway point.  When I think about my life right at this moment versus 7 months ago, I feel like a completely different person and I wouldn't change a thing - every minute has brought me right here.  This experience has rocked my world in a thousand different ways.  All of which I am thankful for.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Granny and Papaw Survive Peru

They made it!  I mentioned in my last post that my parents arrived in Lima on Christmas night. This was their very first time to leave the USA.  I am still so proud of them for coming here and truly honored that they spent the money and took the time to visit us.  

Oh and what a trip it was!  Country folks in the city, let me tell ya.  They were great.  They rode the bus with me to work, ate a bunch of foods that they didn't want, tried to speak Spanish, visited Davis' school, drank Pisco Sours, all kinds of stuff.  It was a whirlwind trip and we enjoyed every minute that they were here.

On the first day we took them to the Santa Cruz market near our house and then walked to the ocean. They were blown away by the sights, smells and sounds of both.  We bought a watermelon at the market, of course.  It must be hard to get good watermelon in Arkansas right now because Dad acted like it was the greatest thing he'd ever tasted. I took them to the spot where I showed Davis the ocean for the first time.  We sat on a bench and ate our watermelon and then walked along the Malecon.
Day one in Peru.  Granny and Papaw sure are happy to see their grandson.  He was happy to see them too.
One fun part of the trip was to see their reactions to things that I now take for granted but knew they would find totally insane.  Like the traffic.  Stop signs?  Turn signals?  Red lights?  Lines on the road?  Speed limits?  Merely suggestions.  Deep down, I actually wondered if they wouldn't want to travel anywhere after they experienced the joys of a random taxi ride in Lima.  But Dad actually started laughing.  Even if it was to hide the sheer terror, he laughed.  Mom didn't.  She held on and whispered four letter words under her breath.  They don't have many taxis in Arkansas y'all.
Dad actually enjoying his first taxi ride.
Visiting my office!
I was off of work for two weeks around Christmas (most of the Heifer office closes down) and I spent all my free time with them.  Bryan and I decided to use their visit to do some of our own exploring in Peru.  We all headed south of Lima to visit the coastal town of Paracas and then hired a car to take us inland an hour to the other cool town of Huacachina.  We took a bus to and from.  It was about a 3 hour ride.  Mom and Dad had never been on a bus like that.  In Peru,  everyone uses buses to get around.  We used the Cruz del Sur bus line and let me tell ya, they put Greyhound to SHAME. It was like first class in an airplane.  

This trip gave them a chance to ride along the Pan-American highway, see the Pacific Ocean and see a small piece of the Peruvian landscape and how some folks live.  

Like in the houses below....
Taken from the bus
Paracas is known for a few interesting things, it is a small town and district, but it is best known for its national reserve.  An ancient Andean society existed here between 750 BC and 100 AD.  It has a lot of marine wildlife just off the coast in a group of islands called the Ballesta islands.  We took a boat out to the islands.  On our way out there, we happened upon this little thing...  
El Candelabro or The Candelabra
The Candelabra was interesting.  It's like the equivalent of a Nazca line or a crop sign...it is a prehistoric geoglyph.  Scientists found pottery nearby and carbon testing shows it to be from around 200 BC.  It is hard to tell from the picture, but it is actually 2 feet deep in the sand and 595 feet tall.  BIG.  They are still not sure who created it or why.  But whoever did knew what they were doing because the wind doesn't mess it up and it never rains there.  It hasn't changed at all since being discovered.  You can see it 12 miles out from sea.  Pretty amazing, despite the look on Davis' face.

Moving along the ocean, we finally came upon the Ballesta islands.  These islands are home to hundreds of thousands of various bird species and lots of sea lions.  Oh the birds.  Everywhere.  So many so, that the Peru government has created an industry around collecting the bird poo and exporting it to England and Cuba for fertilizer.
There were hundreds of thousands of them blanketing the island.  See the white stuff?  Bird poo. 
There is actually a house and plant on the islands to collect the bird poo and ship it off.  They have to wait until the poo is THREE FEET deep before collecting.  As we passed the poo plant, I said a little prayer thanking God that I didn't live on a poo island and that my job isn't to collect poo.  

Then we saw sea lions!  These things are so cute and weird and loud.
Think we're having a good time yet?  
So that was a cool outing.  We gathered back at the beach where most of the restaurants and shops and hotels are and had some lunch.  Later we walked along the beach for a while and did some exploring.
Look what Davis found!  This thing was about 5 feet long.  Ewwwwwww.

And he still jumped right in the water.

Check out that awesome shirt I'm wearing.  Courtesy of one Cindy Whitaker, my best home girl in the world.  She got me that shirt for Crimmus.  My new favorite thing ever.  
After lunch and chillin' on the beach a while, we took a tour of the national reserve.  This was done entirely in Spanish but I got the point of most of it.  Of course, mom and dad did not, but they enjoyed the view. 

*sidenote* I know my Spanish has gotten better.  The reason I know this is because I double checked that the tour was available in English before we left.  And they promised me, in English, that it was.  I was disappointed that it was all in Spanish.  So after the tour I took my self right up to the front desk attendant, who this time didn't speak English, and negotiated a refund for a large portion of the tour.  And I did it in Spanish.  True story.

We saw some cool stuff on that tour - but of course, the details are much more fuzzy since it was in Spanish.  :-)  Here are some shots from the "playa rojo" or "red beach" and the some other fun shots....

Two happy boys on the red beach in the Paracas reserve

So that was Paracas.  Geez this is a long post.  

We headed from there to Huacachina.  Which was even better.  It is an oasis in the desert.  Literally! I thought those things only existed in movies or cartoons.  It's a real thing!  There is a small lagoon in the middle of tall sand dunes with palm trees and everything.  We checked into the hotel and Papaw and Davis jumped into the pool under Granny's supervision while Bryan and I went for a walk to check out the town.  This was all before we had actually seen the lagoon.  As we walked up to it, in the middle of that dessert, that lagoon was like a dream.  I literally ran back to the hotel and told them to forget the pool, come and get in a row boat and row across the lagoon!  When else in your life do you get to do stuff like this?  Never!  They hopped right out and dressed and lo and behold:

Everyone took a turn row row rowing their boats across the lagoon while the sunset over the sand dunes.
This is Tom Tom Hughes sitting in a rowboat on a lagoon in the middle of the dessert in Paracas, Peru.
The next morning we went riding in dune buggies!  Turns out they're called dune buggies for a reason!  All my life I'd used the word and maybe rode in one somewhere, but these were the real deal.  This was hands down the best part of the trip.  When I grow up I want to be a dune buggy driver.  They went so fast and drove so crazy and whipped us around all over the sand dunes.  It was incredibly fun. THEN, they stopped and we were like, "What?" and they were like "Sandboarding!" So we did!  All of us.  Best day ever.
Pretty far away from Redfield, Arkansas wouldn't you say?  How fun is this picture!!!

Probably talking about fishing.
This is the coolest shot from the trip (probably because Bryan took it) - it is from our seat in the buggy looking out over the lagoon and the town of Huacachina below.  
After dune buggy rides, we headed home back to Lima.  That was 48 hours of my life that I'll never forget.   We were tired but oh so happy to be together all sharing in these new adventures.  I'm pretty sure my folks will remember it too.  We saw some cool stuff.  And for them, they saw the landscape of a developing country.  I think they learned some things here, some real things.  At least I hope so.  And at the very least, we were together.   I hope that they had as much fun as we did.  

I think they did.