September 19, 2014: Portraits of being in a foreign country

Quick Hi!

Just wanted to share a few moments of my foreign Self in a different country where I don’t speak the language and don’t know all of the customs yet.

Yesterday:  My phone and internet weren’t working.  I went to the “CLARO” phone company kiosk at the grocery store that I come to frequently to shop and work on the computer.  Although there was no line, and three employees attempted to help me, it took us an hour to accomplish our communication and ability to re-fill my phone and internet.  We also had to call Katiuska in the middle of it for them to explain something involving giving them the name of the father and mother of the person we are borrowing an internet USB cable from.  The employees also tried to talk me out of spending so much money to load my phone (about three phone calls to the USA worth) which is unusual in American marketing methods.

Driving thru our area on the way to school, my conversation with the girls can include:  “Mommy, there’s a donkey!…a Cow!..ohhh, a baby cow…Mommy, some people don’t have doors on their house”  (“That’s right, sweetie, not everyone has a door on their house”)..”Some people don’t have houses…”  (“I know, honey, we are lucky to have a house…not everyone has a house..”)…”Mommy, i have to go poo poo….”  (“Ohhh, really, like – right now?”)  “Yes, right now!”  (This part of conversation happened last week on the highway where there are no such things as rest stops or much of anything you would ever want to stop at…that was memorable and required that kind of Mommy Warrior feeling that you just have to invoke sometimes). “Here we go, through the river! wheeeeeeee!”

This morning, we met and picked up Felipe at the cemetery.  He needed a ride to the city where I take the girls to school, as he has a pregnant daughter in Bonao that he wants to visit.  Our conversation is funny.  We somehow conversed that neither or us know the others’ language and that we can help try to teach each other.  I said something to the effect of, “Felipe quiere aprender Ingles?  (I’m cheating right now and using Bing translator to tell me how to say, “wants to learn English?”)…He said, “Siiiii….” and after pausing shyly for a moment, he said, “Heeeelllooo….ha arrr yu?…”  “Wow, Felipe!  Muy bien!  You are learning!…How about ‘Good-bye’?…(silence)…you see, ‘Adios’ en Ingles este ‘GOOD-BYE’ ..”  He paused and then tried to say “good-bye,” which came out like, “Goof – Biyo”  … It was so awesome that he tried,and I know that shy feeling, cuz everytime I say something to him in MY Spanish, I can tell by his face that he has absolutely no idea what I said.  I am absolutely positive that if I say “How are you” in his language it must sound exactly like his “good-bye” in mine.

So we stuck with safe conversations on our drive:  “Mira, un pero!”  (as we passed a dog, dodging a scooter..)…”Un pero,” we could all agree on, even Sofia and Michelle.  At a certain point on our way to the girls school, he suddenly said something, and then just jumped out of the truck and disappeared into the crowded, pedestrian/scooter/vendor filled sidewalk.  “Adios, Felipe!” the three of us girls shouted out the window, though he was gone.

Tipping:  I have a feeling I am giving too much when I tip.  At the grocery store where I am sitting now, La Sirena, with tables and internet, I usually pick up my basic groceries here a couple of times a week.  The custom here is that the guys who bag your groceries, walk you out, and you give them a little tip.  So now when I come up to the cashier to run my groceries through, usually about three baggers come running up and start arguing over who will get to bag my groceries and walk me out.  It’s not my outfit, believe me (often barely masked pajamas and crocks), so I think I’m known for tipping “well.”

At the gas station today, after the man filled the truck up with “Gazzzoilll” which is “diesel,” I gave him a small tip, which is customary.  But he looked at the money, looked into my eyes, held his hands to his heart and started saying a lot of things, including the word “dios” which I think means God.  So I think it was a little too much.  At one intersection where the one-legged man is usually coming to the car on his crutches to sell a sesame bar, when he sees our truck, he hurries as fast as he can up to us and stands at the truck window smiling.

Not that we are rich, not at all.  But yes, we do have a house.  Our house has a door, and windows and a pretty floor, not dirt.  Somehow I think that it’s a good deal, to make someone’s day by giving just a little bit extra.  In this country, we’re talking a matter of cents, maybe I’m giving them 50 cents more than a good 25 cent tip.  For them, it might make their day, lighten their load, allow them to buy extra plantains for their family.  Or when we see a bunch of kids all nicely attired in their school outfit, standing quietly on the side of the dirt road miles from town, with a parent watchful from the porch, sometimes we stop and pick them up, give them a ride into town.  They don’t have a car or scooter or a donkey.  But somehow their parents got them all dressed and ready for school, girls with cute bows in their hair, boys with scrubbed faces, clean shoes.  It’s amazing to me that they did it, they must care so much – just as much as we care about our kids.  It’s silent in the truck as I drive them, since we don’t understand each other’s language.  But still we share a ride together for a few minutes, getting to know each other wordlessly, in between the bumps and turns.  They sometimes say, in English, “Thannnnque You…” and I say, in Spanish, as best I can, “de nada..”

And yet, it is really me who is hitching the ride here.  I’m on your turf, stumbling with your language, needing your help, requiring your patience.  I’m the guest here.  The foreigner, stepping on your toes.  I’m the reason the three phone employees needed an hour to load my phone, since I don’t know what they are saying.  Felipe jumped out of my truck in the middle of the city – probably walking the next couple of miles was easier than trying to tell me where to turn to get to his destination.  I’m lucky to be here.  I’m grateful for the time, the patience, the kindness that our local friends – and the local community – have so frequently given our family and me.

(From Bing..):  “Puedo Dios te bendiga y te guarde…”  (May God bless you and keep you.)  And to everyone, I wish you peace, love, happiness, health, safety and goodness.  Todo el mundo.  (Everyone.)

2 thoughts on “September 19, 2014: Portraits of being in a foreign country

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