I feel as though my contributions to this blog have been primarily divided between two themes: twisted moments of paraguayan zen, and my adventures in a language that is not my own.

But I’m willing to embrace that.

Another observation:

Spanish is an unbelievably, often absurdly dramatic language when translated literally into English. Allow me to translate (literally) a recent text message interaction:

friend: andrew, if we cannot meet for me to give you my farewell, it is my desire that you have a good trip and i will miss you.

me: “thank you, raquel. but I am not very busy in this week before I leave – if you would like to meet…”

friend: “Do it, Andrew. Just tell me and I will already be there.”

Is anybody really surprised that this language gave birth to the telenovela?

Although I fell short in the above interaction, sometimes being a non-native speaker can actually enhance your dramatics, in that a void in vocabulary is filled by a hyperbole born of necessary yet poetic generalization.

For example, this past weekend my elbows got a little scrapped up playing soccer. Somebody at the office asked me what happened. Intending to respond “oh, just an injury from a soccer game this weekend,” I drew a momentary blank on the Spanish word for “injury,” and all I could do was generalize on the theme:

“oh, just an injustice from a soccer game this weekend.”

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My love of English is like any true love. It is the product of inevitability. I write now because I have to, because I have always had to, even if I haven’t always known that to be true. It is nothing more complicated than that, or really even more profound. I’m not talking about fate or predestination. The inevitability of an idea is not nearly as complicated existentially as the inevitability of an event. We go through life forming the people we will become, and we are inevitably the sum of everything we have been. It just takes a special set of circumstances to understand that we are where we are supposed to be. And it has never been clearer than last night, when a passing feeling caught me off guard.

It struck me just last night how much I am going to miss the English language. I will be speaking nearly exclusively Spanish until the end of December, and that actually terrifies me – not the prospect of improving my Spanish, but the prospect of losing my English. Spanish is a beautiful language, a language for talking to God, they say. Yesterday marked my first month in Paraguay, and at this point I understand everything people tell me, speak with more or less functional fluency, and dream in a Spanglish that would horrify even the most casual devotee of either language. The Spanish language, and in fact my Spanish personality, is gradually merging with the person I am in English.

As much as I appreciate the aesthetic of Spanish, it will never mean to me what English means to me. I love the English language. I am in infatuated with it. It is my passion, my art, my devotion, and my comfort. I am intimately acquainted the flavor of its every sound on the tongue and its resonance through the sternum into the gut. To be a master in the delicate collusion of rhythm and breath, the most subtle slight of cadence to the most jarring digression. The catalogue of grammar is vast, but only experience, tenderness and care can inform a far more engaging vernacular: the exception to the rule.

I will come to love Spanish. That, too, may be inevitable. It will take a lot of time, and I will probably never know it with the same adoring familiarity that I do English, but I have no doubt that we will become closely acquainted. There is a point in a relationship with a language at which a sentence becomes more than a product of its words, and a word more than a product of its letters – when you can feel a visceral pulse in the meter and sustain of every syllable. It’s when the experience of a page of text is more fulfilling than the experience of a photograph. It’s love. For the next six months I will entertain Spanish as an exciting new mistress, but I know in my heart that ultimately, English is all I have. I hope she can find it in her heart to take me back, but if not, then I probably never deserved her in the first place.

Before arriving to Guatemala, due to stints in various Spanish-speaking countries during the past five years, my Spanish was a mildly proficient jumble of Gringo, Sevillan lisp, Argentine “J’s”, and Dominican slang. To even wish to be respected here, I’ve had to quit the impossible charade of being from all these countries at once, and embark on a mission to speak some pure Español Guatemalteco. The Spanish here is really pleasant – clearly expressed, reasonably paced, limited accent and all words intact – and I haven’t been able to get away with slurring my words like some punk out of a Reggaeton video. My host father insists that I’m becoming more Guatemalan, or “Chapín” (pronounced chap-een) – a descriptive term that reflects both identity as a Guatemalan National and the inherent pride in the country that exudes from almost anyone you meet here – by day as I learn the local lingo and break my bad lingual habits.

 

The fruition of this process is a long time coming, but I’ve already begun to pin down some aspects of the country that are central to this transformation beyond learning the vernacular. Here’s the first entry in a long list of things distinctly Guatemalan that one must experience before ever hoping to become a full-fledged “Chapin” that I plan on adding to throughout the summer:

 

1. Chicken Buses
Simply put, you haven’t come close to experiencing Guatemala if you haven’t been crammed between two villagers on a seat meant for one and a half normal sized people, holding on for dear life in a ridiculously painted American school bus careening through rollercoaster mountain passes at 60 mph. These unbelievable machines are often the single link for the poorer population between the larger cities and surrounding rural areas. Every ride promises a new outrageous experience. With little to no regard for human life, the engine fires up before you’re fully on board. Shrewd money collectors pull absurd, real-life Spider Man moves to climb from the front side door, over the roof of the bus, and down back in through the back door at full speed. With a soundtrack of legendary music blaring – remixes of MJ’s Billy Jean included – and “Dios es Amor” signs in abundance next to scantily clad pinups, this ride is fully pimped and primed to change the life of any gringo.

English is a language for talk of Business.
French is a language for talk of Love.
German is a language for talk of War.
Italian is a language for talk of Food.
Spanish is a language for talking to God.

asi lo que dicen…