Lost in Translation
Computer class highlight. Helping a woman create an account to check her cell phone bill.
“How does this thing know my mother’s maiden name?”
The children’s classes here are each two hours long. One hour for English and the other for gym. During gym we usually head to the local field (canchita) and play soccer or do whatever. Another girl who works here doesn’t speak Spanish very well. She comes back home from class and relays a story to all of us about her day. She was telling the kids they were going to head out early to spend extra time in the field playing because they’d been so good, and the kids all started hysterically laughing. “Which field will we go to?” they’d ask. “This one, right out here. The smaller field.” More hysterical laughter.
-Teacher, is it your field?
-My field? No? What? No. This field. This field right here.
-We will play in the field all together?
-Yes. Yes we will play in the field all together. (More hysterical laughter.)
We ask her to tell us what she’d been saying to them exactly, in Spanish. Canchita is only one letter off from what she’d actually been saying, which was “conchita,” which actually means “little vagina,” except in about the dirtiest way you could possibly say it. So she’d basically been yelling “Let’s go play in the little vagina!” over and over again to a classroom of 12 year olds.
When is your job ever that fun?
A dog bit my leg on the way to a meeting today. He was pretty small. And it was not very hard. He really sorta just gummed me, but it’s still not an awesome way to start a morning meeting. (Oh, that I was still able to complain that my train was five minutes late, and that my gourmet coffee not hot enough…) The girl I was with is super afraid of dogs, and it’s cliché, but they really can smell fear, and whenever I walk with her angry dogs come from miles around to bark and chase us. I let her go ahead of me and tried to keep her calm as these dogs came after us. Usually if you just keep walking they’ll go away. This little pipsqueak did not. I turned around and about punted him, and then promptly felt really bad. I’m the only person who gets bit by a dog, and then feels sorry for the little guy when I hurt him defending myself.
The class of 6-9 year olds have been studying hard with their teacher in preparation for the big upcoming Vocabulary Bee. For practice during class the teacher goes around the room and says a word in Spanish to each kid, and they have to say the corresponding English word.
…..Milner (who you may remember from….) is not paying attention today. The teacher gets to him: “Milner. Milner. Milner.” Nothing. The kid eventually looks up from scribbling in his notebook and just stares at the teacher. “Milner. Milner.” Milner shifts uncomfortably in his chair and adjusts his too –tight Brazil soccer jersey. “Milner!” He whispers something no one can hear. “What? Milner, please speak up.”
-I said Michael.
-What? What about Michael?
– (He shrugs and looks nervous.) I dunno. Just Michael?
– What about Michael?
– (He balls up his little fist and yells.) I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what my name is in English. Maybe it’s Michael!
….fast forward a week…Milner did not win the Vocab Bee.
During “English Conversation Club” one of the adult students is telling me about a trip to theU.S.:
– We went to this one place, it was great. InLas Vegas. Called “Pussy Lunch.”
– What? No! That’s not what it was called.
– Yes. Yes. I remember. It was Pussy Lunch. That was it.
– Gross. Miguel, gimme a break.
– No. What am I saying? It is not bad. It was just a fun dancing club.
– Like strippers dancing.
– No. No. Why is it a stripper? No. Dancing.
– Okay fine.
– No. I show you.
– Please don’t show me.
– No I show you. They have a web.
– Yes, I’m sure that they do. I’m not interested.
– No. I show you.
He pulls it up on one the classroom computers: Pussycat Lounge.
For gym class the other day the 11-13 year olds convince us to take them to the ruins. Oddly enough, in the middle of this actual living ruin of a city, there are some actual ancient (Incan?) ruins just down the road. I’ve never been to visit them because the entrance is on a street that is just about a hair sketchier than I normally go for. The kids insist they know a back way. What could go wrong?
So twenty minutes later we’re climbing the side of a dusty mountain, rocks slipping out from under my feet into the ravine below (there are a disproportionate number of ravines in this place). In what world does this qualify as gym class? A half hour later, we arrive at the back of the ruins just in time to see two cops on four wheelers, carrying rifles, and heading towards us. My first instinct is not to be afraid. Obviously this place needs to be guarded, we’ve got a bunch of kids with us, we’re clearly not a threat. They’re not going to shoot a bunch of kids who are playing around.
“They’re going to shoot us! RUUUUN!” The kids all start yelling and running, and though I’m now I’m only a little less sure that they’re going to shoot us, when people start running and yelling about getting shot, you just run too. Back down the steep mountain, the other voluntario cursing me for agreeing to let the kids come here.
– I told you this would happen!
– You did not say we’d maybe get shot. That I’m sure of.
We get back down to the canchita. “Why don’t we stay here for a bit and just play games like a normal gym class.” But we can’t. After a few minutes, one kid tugs my sleeve and whispers, “Rateros.” He gestures with his chin to a group of guys on the other side of the field. Thieves. Apparently, well known theives. So we gather up the kids and head back to the classroom. This is the world they live in. Every day. Gym class consists of a trek up a dusty mountain, running from the police, and then from rateros. I randomly find myself wondering what Mr. Kaltreider, by elementary school gym teacher, would think about that?
Two days before I need to be a bridesmaid in a wedding, I take some photos with the kids from S. In their excitement I get tackled to the ground and gash both! of my knees open on a rock. Perfect. Now I’m going to be the bridesmaid with legs like an 8 year old tomboy. Awesome.