Friday, August 8, 2008

Hablo Espanol Muy Poco. Muy, Muy Poco.

This morning I decided it was time to do laundry.

The washer and dryer in Casa C (the name of our house) are brand new, complete with instruction manuals on top of them, but…they’re not hooked up yet. In the States my next option would be a coin Laundromat, but those are not common in Mexico. Instead, they have full-service Lavanderias, where you drop your clothes off, you’re charged a price based on the weight of your clothes, and then you pick them up the next day, all folded neatly for you in a clear plastic bag. The price for this service always seems expensive to me – at least twice as much as it would cost to do the same amount of laundry at home.

Big Myth #34: “Mexico is cheap.” Mexico is not cheap – Mexico is sometimes cheap, but definitely not always cheap. For example, water – not free. Of course it’s not really free in the U.S. either, but we’re used to water fountains in the park, shopping malls, etc, and drinkable water running out of the tap, etc, etc. Not here. Water is more expensive than Coke here. Believe it.

Anyway, Chris and I walk to her Metro stop every morning, and I’ve noticed what looked like a self-service Laundromat on the way. So this morning I stuffed my largest backpack full of all the clothes I could stuff in there and brought it to the Laundromat.

(Above: The laundromat is near the shopping cart at the corner of Copilco and Universidad. We live on La Otra Banda, a tiny road that intersects with Revolucion. Notice that the streets are not, er, gridlike. Imagine trying to cross them every day. On a bright note, look how close the Estadio Olimpico is (the big circular thing)! That's where the Pumas, the closest futbol (i.e. soccer) team, plays.)

The laundromat was only sort-of self-service. There were definitely no coin slots. When I walked in, the woman working there said Hola and smiled, and I said Hola and smiled. Then she started talking really fast, presumably explaining how this Lavanderia worked. Not good. For a moment I considered bailing on the whole adventure, but those clothes weren’t getting clean on their own. Must… wash… clothes… “Um, como?” She smiled, and repeated everything much more slowly and simply. I understood soap – jabon – and colors – tinto – and I think ropa might mean clothes…and that’s about all I got. A few vocab words, but no idea how they fit together. She also did some pointing, which was helpful.

(Above: The earlier map is on our wall. We have other maps in our room, too. Mexico City, Mexico, the world... Next we need to find a map of the universe, or at least the galaxy.... They help with geography. But not language...)

Pointing can be very helpful. In Internet cafés, especially, I do a lot of pointing. I walk in, point at a computer, and say Si? And the person working there says Si and nods, and I sit down. It’s amazing how much you can communicate by pointing, Si, and Gracias.

But in the end, all I understood at the Laundromat was that I was supposed to divide my clothes into colors and whites. Great. Everything else was a lot of pointing, guessing, smiling sheepishly, and feeling like a really stupid gringo. Eventually I did get my clothes cleaned and dried, but I left feeling very frustrated about my ability to communicate with and understand the other 20 million people living in this city.

(Above: I think these are peaches. Duraznos = peaches. Got it.)

And the really frustrating part is that I do know lots of Spanish words that I’ve picked up here and there and with audio iPod lessons, but (a) I’m not very confident in using them and (b) those words are only a tiny fraction of the Spanish dictionary and (c) it’s surprisingly easy to avoid speaking Spanish by relying on your fluent spouse most of the time and doing lots of pointing and Gracias-ing the rest of the time. Until, of course, you want to wash your clothes.

(Above: These have been my textbooks so far. Desafortunadamente, Harry has not yet had to wash his wizard's robes at the Hogwarts Lavanderia. He probably just waves his wand anyway. Stupid magic.)

Over the last two weeks I’ve grown increasingly frustrated about not knowing the language. I wish there was some quick and easy way to get my language up to speed, but I think it’s just going to be a lot of hard work over these next twelve months.

The first step: Three weeks of intensive language training, including two weeks in Cuernavaca, a town about an hour south of Mexico City, and a final week back here at the Lutheran Center. The official name of the program is Spanish Language for Ministry, so there should be lots of relevant topics for the upcoming semester program.

Here’s some information I found about the program online, including a video (!):

They sent a schedule yesterday, and it's jam-packed. It's certainly enough to make me eager to begin, if a little (ok, a lot) nervous. But, as Pastor Collins once told me not too long ago, "We're in the faith business. Have a little!"

Tomorrow afternoon I leave for Cuernavaca to begin the program. Our first assignment? Find our way to our homestay (!) by taxi, bus and taxi again. Chris is not coming, of course; I'm on my own for this one. Have I mentioned how difficult the Laundromat was?

Anyway, there may not be as many blog posts from here on out, now that classes are starting. Fewer posts, but maybe more interesting ones....

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