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The Reckoning: Verbal Skills and Communication

Language Lab
Most of the Spanish that I speak, I learned my first six weeks in Mexico. I bounded into the English library like a puppy, and in the eyes of the cranky ancients, smoking and mouldering amid the stacks, must have seemed like one about to piddle on the carpet. I signed up for a small class with an elementary schoolteacher from the capitol. We met under a shady tree in the courtyard twice a week in the morning, so I wouldn’t realize how sweltering it was until my perspiring walk back home. Rafi was a good instructor, patient and kind. We worked with grammar and vocabulary, of course, but he also gave us some context clues and social hints that were helpful and germane. To this day I don’t “usted” anybody, perhaps not to my credit. His pronunciation was precise and I think a bit posh, probably, though my ears did not notice such distinctions then. My lexicon swelled from six words to hundreds fairly quickly. Then, we moved to the beach, and I left my formal education behind.

Sea Change
If Merida was an ordered English garden, Progreso felt like a fetid swamp populated with unhelpful and sometimes sinister creatures. Fewer people spoke English, and there were many more from other parts of Mexico – swarthy opportunists in a shady port. It was isolating and far less pleasant. It was then that we met Mari and Marcelo, who became our housekeeper and groundskeeper respectively, but more than that, the people with whom we spoke most often, saw everyday, and depended upon in myriad and unexpected ways. When we locked ourselves out of our house, we found them and they sourced a locksmith. When one day inexplicably there was no water from the faucets, they explained that it was a normal occurrence and directed us to the grassy Gulf for water we could flush with. And when we needed a party organized for the day after our wedding, we called on them to rent tables and chairs and chickens and pickled onions. Because they needed us for income and we needed them to survive the wilds of Yucalpeten they learned to understand our garbled, simple speech and theirs – Mayan-inflected, uneducated, shushy and smiling – was the type we, to this day, best understand and likely imitate.

The Third Act
In which I became kind of an asshole. And all of a sudden, I was sick of Mexico. I wanted to go, I was bored, I was lonely, I was tired of not being understood, despite my efforts. I had always been a good student, adept at languages, but my progress had plateaued and I felt frustrated by my inablitity to communicate. I enjoy a chat, a casual conversation, an extemporaneous dialog-based interaction, if you will. I have been able to make myself understood verbally since I was nine months old. I take pleasure in words, both written and spoken, and here I could do nothing that didn’t elicit laughter or a confused expression. I quit Spanish and all its imperfect tenses. It proved not at all difficult to become insulated/isolated/alienated. Our own house in Chelem was becoming ever more comfortable and Americanized. We had Skye satellite, which meant TV in English, a Vonage phone connection and high speed internet access. I had become the worst kind of expatriated American: we live behind bulwarks and don’t mingle with the nationals.

A lot has changed in the last few months. I feel different, more myself but also better than ever. I’m taking stock and challenging this uncharacteristic complacency. I’m finding pleasure in the little things again, Gracias a Dios. I want to be good again here, to be interested and invested and generous and forgiving. It is easier, knowing we are going, to feel lighter, to seek new sights, to accept setbacks and participate as an engaged yet somewhat removed citizen of this experiment. I did not become fluent in Spanish, not even close. But I can on occasion make a little joke, say something not devastatingly clever but at least pleasant and appropriate and understood. That communion means a lot in everyday matters. We have ingratiated ourselves just a little after all; through persistence and patience and practice, we have developed some common ground, though to achieve nuance and verbal dexterity would require more effort than I am willing to exert, I am sorry to say. I’m torn. I hate the thought of leaving incompetent and yet we are beginning the arduous process of extracting ourselves from the only life we’ve known for four years: I have no emotional energy to spare. There will be regrets. I could have tried harder. But rather than thinking of this ending as a final exam, I’ll choose to close the chapter. I know we’ll be back and I hope we will travel to Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and beyond. I will continue my education and learn from this language because one day when I am freezing and cursing the cold and unhappy, I’ll bet I will dream of Mexico and those intimations will come to me in Spanish.

There Is 1 Response So Far. »

  1. Canadian landscapes vary from motainuns to oceans, from orchards to caracts, and from prairies to ponds.The country of Canada is the second largest country in the world (second only to Russia) and its southern most tip is Point Pelee Island which is on the same latitude as Northern California stretching northward to the Arctic Circle.With latitudes from the 42nd parallel to the 133rd parallel, it also spans six time zones meaning Canada has many aspects to its landscapes due to climate, and geography. The most famous address in the whole world is Niagara Falls, Ontario which draws over 10 million visitors each year because of the beautiful landscape at the place where one great lake empties into another.From Dofino British Columbia where one can ski down the mountain and on the same day surf the tide, to the beautiful gemstone rocks of Newfoundland’s streets, Canadians are blessed with the most beautiful landscapes attracting tourists and inhabitants alike. The annual salmon swimming upstream in British Columbia and the waters of the Great Lakes or the many streams that are fed by glaciers, Canada is home to largest source of fresh water.From the rising of the sun in the east to the going down of the same on the other coast, Canada is a land of forests, streams, rivers, lakes, fields, glaciers and ice-caps. To say something about Canadian landscape is that it is diverse.

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