Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador
2008-02-25 Just keep swimming
My translation professor told me today that I was a freak of nature, which I guess is a good thing. He gave us a horrific exam last week that took me three hours and fifty nine minutes to finish (we had a maximum of four hours to do it), but it went pretty well, so I'm in a relatively good mood; I figured I should take advantage of that and send something your way. I really should be working on catching up right now, but it's been almost exactly a month since I sent out a real update, so I'm going to use all of you lovely folks as a reason to procrastinate a bit. I'll try to make this update as normal and Ecuador-related as possible, but I guess I should probably start with some Oscar-related news.
We haven't heard anything from the consulate or from the state of Alaska, so I'm still in Ecuador waiting to be told when I'm going to fly to Honduras. I'm almost caught up in my classes, though it's a vicious cycle because once I get caught up in a couple, I start working on the back work for other ones, and I fall a day behind in ones I had just caught up in. Poco a poco, little by little Integrating myself back into college life has been a painful process, and I still occasionally start crying when it's most inconvenient (like in the middle of a conversation with my poor bilingualism professor, or when I'm trying to meditate in yoga), but I'm slowly learning to hold it together. It is still there just barely below the surface, and the smallest things remind me of him and bring out a sad little half smile, but I'm getting better at concentrating on what I'm doing.
My professors and host family have been very supportive, as have my classmates. The other day I was eating lunch alone in the back corner of the cafeteria, lost in my thoughts, when a very short guy from my gender and society class walked up and asked if it was all right if he sat there too. We had never really talked before, but he seemed sincere, so I said sure. He went to buy food, and when he came back he said, "Soare you feeling a little better?" I was confused, because I had never really talked to him before and I knew that our gender and society professor hadn't announced anything in class. I asked him how he knew what had happened, and he said timidly, "OhI just heard you talking to your friend before yoga the other day, when you were cryingSo I thought today I'd come sit with you to see how you were doing." He was so sweet, I really appreciated it. He didn't flirt, he didn't ask a whole bunch of questions, he just kept me company. We talked for a while about languages (he's Ecuadorian, lived in Italy for a year, speaks a little bit of English, and is currently taking Portuguese, German, and French), and he helped me study for my translation test. You know, like I said in the airport e-mail, there really are some very nice people in this world.
Unfortunately, whenever I meet someone new they want to know where I learned Spanish, whether I have a boyfriend, and why not (since the most of the other American girls here are already dating or have already dated Ecuadorians). I feel bad putting these poor people in awkward situations by telling them the truth, because no one ever knows what to say when they hear about what happened, so sometimes I try to avoid explaining. But at the same time, Oscar was a wonderful person who made me very happy for almost two years and I don't want to erase him from my history, so I usually end up telling them anyway. You all know how much I used to talk about him Now I'm just a little quieter, because so many of the stories and (in class) examples that occur to me are related to him, and I don't want to bring up such a sad subject all the time. But I know that eventually, someday, I will be able to look back on the happy memories and smile rather than tear up.
The weather, unfortunately, has been matching my mood. It has rained enthusiastically every day since I got back, and the country is officially in a state of emergency. The coastal regions are flooded, the rice and corn crops are doomed, and people are stuck without electricity, food, and clean water. Here in Quito the rain has been nothing more than an inconvenience since we're so far up in the mountains, but most of the country is suffering terribly. I wonder if when I get back from Honduras I could find an aid organization and go volunteer on the weekends In Quito, everyone is coughing and sneezing, and complaining constantly about the cold. It's been very similar to April in Seattle (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit), which doesn't seem that cold, but none of the houses here have central heating, so it gets to you a lot more.
On a happier note, I've found an Ecuadorian friend. I think I mentioned her before: her family is actually from Colorado, but she was born here because she's the youngest. Her name is Jamela, and we have a couple of classes together. She's been wonderfully supportive since I got back, and occasionally invites me over to her house to talk in Spanglish about exciting things like grammar with her mother and grandmother. Being the grammar geek that I am, I love it. All three of them are fluent in English and Spanish, so we switch back and forth all the time, and try to figure out psychologically what makes us switch when and how to say things like "they're like two peas in a pod," in Spanish (Se parecen como dos gotas de agua, I think). The other day Jamela's mom and grandma were trying to translate a document for their church, which is Lutheran and gives services in Spanish, English, and German, and her grandma said, "Pues s, but the ley of the dignidad says that" Beautiful! On Saturday night we had a girls' night, which we spent eating cookie dough and watching Argentinean musical comedy.
Ah, that Spanglish reminds me of a wonderful baseball quote in my translation textbook from a Cuban newspaper. Check it out:
"en el sexto inning le dieron un roller entre tercera y short, que fue el primer single del juego . Los del Marianao batearon mucho ms, pero anoche tanto los outfielders como los infielders realizaron magnficas cogidas . Formental bate un roller por el box . Era un hit con todas las de la ley ; la cuarta entrada abri Pearson con hit de roller por el center. Len bate duro y dio un flay al short. Estando Cabrea al bate, Pearson se rob segunda."
Here's some vocab and a few entertaining phrases I've heard lately:
1) Another gem from my translation professor: "Qu es arriba, medico?" Think about it
2) I almost translated pavo real (peacock) as royal turkey. Whoops.
3) An entertaining though semi-inappropriate shirt I saw the other day: Hije Potter (again, think about it)
4) Oooh, and I have a joke. I'll put it in Spanish first, then translate it:
El otro da vi a un amigo mo que pareca muy triste. Le pregunt qu haba pasado, y me dijo que su abuelo se haba muerto. Le dije, "Ay, qu triste! Qu paso?" "Es que se cay del sexto piso," me explic, "y se fue al cielo." Me qued impresionado. "Qu buen rebote!"
The other day I saw a friend of mine looking really sad. I asked him what had happened, and he told me that his grandfather had died. I said, "Oh, how sad! What happened?" "He fell from the sixth floor," my friend explained, "and he went to heaven." I was impressed. "What a bounce!"
5) Spanish-speaking Ecuadorians regularly use a lot of words that actually come from Quichua (the main local indigenous language), which has been very confusing for me. I can't remember all of the ones I've heard, but the two I have written down are a cha chai (basically the equivalent of saying "brrrr" as in "hey, it's cold") and a rra rrai (the opposite). Oh, and huacharnaco, which according to the guy who works in the Office of Ethnic Diversity somehow has connotations similar to the word "redneck."
6) Last but most certainly not least, the other day an Ecuadorian girl asked me if I had picked up an eco-novio yet, which I took to mean a local boyfriend rather than an environmentally friendly one.
Oh, on a completely different note, I should probably mention our trip to Otavalo on Saturday. Otavalo is a town about two hours from Quito, famous for its outdoor indigenous market. Their sweaters are beautiful, handmade, and irresistible; I think I bought five (though not all of them were for me, some I will bring home for other folks). I also took many many pictures, which hopefully in the next few days I will put up on facebook, if I manage to finish my homework. Markets are so hard to describe, because there is so much to see, hear, and smell that you can't fully express it either in words or in pictures I wish you could all see it for yourselves.
Apparently I'm working backwards in time in this e-mail. Last week I discovered that my yoga professor, who I already knew was fluent in Spanish, English, Chinese, and Sanskrit, also teaches Japanese. I've been asking around, and rumor is that he speaks 16 languages including the five I've mentioned, Greek, Latin, Quichua, and several other Asian, European, and local indigenous languages, though he does it all with a French accent. I wonder if I'll ever catch up. I don't know; if I keep learning only 1 language every five years or so, considering that I started when I was 12, I would be 102 before I spoke 16. Hmmm
Anyway, this yoga professor teaches a Japanese class on Monday and Friday mornings at 7. I already have class on Mondays at 7, but he told me I could go on Fridays just to listen. It's sort of informal, and there are only four of us, but at least it's a good opportunity to practice. There isn't really a textbook, though, and I think it's closer to 201 level than 202, so I don't know how much new content I'll pick up.
Let's see, what happened before that Oh, on Monday of last week I went in to the Learning Center to ask about finding a conversation partner, more as a way of making a friend than practicing Spanish. It turns out that the Learning Center is also the Office of Ethnic Diversity, and when I walked in seven or eight students who looked like they were from indigenous backgrounds were chatting away. And all of them wanted a conversation partner! So I ended up with three, on Tuesdays, when I don't have class. One of them, Marcia, says she's going to teach me Quichua! She said that next week (well, tomorrow) she's going to come all prepared with vocab words for me, so I'm excited. I'm really glad that I finally found some students from a different background than most USFQ students. Many of them are here on scholarships, and most speak an indigenous language as well as Spanish and English. USFQ students tend to have a lot in common and be from the very upper class, because it's the most expensive school in Ecuador, and though for the most part they've been very nice, I was glad to find some people who had new stories to tell.
Okay, I really do need to get back to work, so I think I'll leave it at that. Take care, everybody.
PS- Interesting fact: in English, cats have nine lives. In Spanish, they only have seven.