Misunderstanding

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During English class in Arrazola, we played with cootie catchers* to practice the future tense: you will find your true love: you will find satisfying work.
I did not know what the word cootie was. It turns out to be lice (and that’s a whole different conversation, involving lice eggs). Anyway, I said, it’s what my mother told me boys have.
And one of my students, impatient and confused, politely inquired, “Excuse me, do you mean a dick?”
Certainly blushing, I said, “I can see how you arrived at this question, but no, the word I am looking for is lice, piojo.
The young man’s fortunes were hilarious (mis)fortunes (perhaps curses): you will be eaten by a shark, you will lose your job, you will have ten sons. I asked why he hadn’t added “you’ll be bald and toothless.”  He simply lacked the vocabulary, not the cruelty.
We were still laughing about this activity when my friend, who’d arranged this exchange, arrived and commented that the terraza had been filled with laughter all afternoon.
We agreed but dared not offer any explanation.
Instead, we laughed some more.

* A cootie catcher is also known as a fortune teller, a chatterbox, and because of its appearance, a salt cellar (picture it upside down), a whirlybird, and a paku-paku (think Pac Man).

  • Show how misunderstanding can lead to hilarity. Show what happens when our limitations in vocabulary and/or understanding can lead us to great laughter.

Small Talk

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You are happy because strangers trust your Spanish enough to make small talk. They tell jokes about the vendor who’s clearly selling more than the bright blouses his stand pretends, his teal cowboy shirt unbuttoned to his nipples, his how ya doin’ English skills.

The way he scans you as if he can see all of you.

His neighbor warns: He’s a little grandma killer.

You do not worry, even a second, that he murders.

You retort: Womanizer, eh?

The vendor himself confesses with a shrug that translates to: What can I say?

And he invites you to a celebration, promises you a sky filled with fireworks.

  • It is natural to engage in some small talk in any language, but double meanings, flirtation, and jokes are far more difficult to navigate. Create a character (perhaps clumsily) attempting to navigate this.

The Mexican Art of Double Entendre

Questions

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I

This morning, you saw an anarchist on his way to work, and you wondered whether he, all covered in black, with a bandana covering his face to his eyes, was running, as you  would, because he was late, or if, perhaps, he was already on the job.

How would you know?

II

Most of the rest of the city is quiet, fans gripped to television sets and any news of the nation’s soccer scores.

How can we care about the world when our team is down three and time is running out?

III

More than two dozen people plead for me to buy something I don’t want.

Isn’t there a better way to support a family?

 

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IV

Women in wide skirts and men in sandals folk dance on the plaza as if there is something to win in the moves.

Is there? And…

if so, who will tell me?

V

How can I know whether these are even the right questions?

 

  • Another question: And what happens if we all don’t vote? 

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Use questions to drive a tense monologue.

 

 

Little Prayers

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The streets are nearly empty, but the sound of the game hovers over the city, blaring over the playground with children squealing, flinching, cheering in unison; roaring from shop windows, whispering from cell phones for circles of people as if assembled for a campfire. Even the strays seem to listen for the score will ArrrArrrArrrrooooo as the Mexicans protract Goooool as an opera singer stretches a note. I am rooting for Mexico, for the joy of the whole city, for the pride of a nation.

There is an electric jubilation in the streets that makes the hair on my arms stand at attention. We all have goosebumps for the potential.

Another Oaxaca politician has been murdered. The newspaper reports the 150 bullets fired into the truck, the other casualties. The body is unabashedly published in black and white.

The people at the cafe watch the game on the iPad cash register. The Irish bar above the cafe waves the Mexican flag today. The patrons chant and cringe and watch together, eschewing real problems.

I wonder how many people are praying for a win. I wonder whether this is the right thing to pray for. Even more, I wonder if it will work.

When something makes me nervous or upset, like having an unexpected argument, I switch my mind to other things. The music on the radio, the breeze blowing through the windows, how delicious cinnamon is in savory dishes. This is how I cope with the tension in the air.

Even the gum sellers wear patriotic green. The baristas take the news of a point scored by the opposing team as they practice pouting expressions and milk to form designs on top, filming the process.

How long is this game?

I can’t take the groans from the Irish pub. I can’t bear the dismay of the baristas, I escape the cafe, but even Constantino, the man who sells rugs, is certain it’s already over.

Part of me knows that a sport should not mean so much. Part of me knows the value of metaphors and charms.

What happens when my lucky jersey doesn’t bring a win—when prayers aren’t answered?

Ants!

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This girl has a sack of giant flying ants. That is one of them crawling on her left knee.

A horde of us have been out hunting ants, in Llano Park and throughout the city, since sunrise.

A woman fills her red jacket’s pockets; a man uses his moto helmet as a basket. A valet and a waiter scramble to fill grocery sacks with ants. The shoe shiner loans bags to customers. A man pushes ants, wings and all, into a Coke bottle as his wife zips them in her purse.

Some trappers bring crumbs for the birds (as distraction for the competition); some gatherers team up, use their children.

Some gratefully praise the fortune falling from the heavens, and some think I don’t know that chicatanas (giant flying ants) arrive with hurricane season, that I cannot know two full days of rain signal the joyous beginning of hunters harvesting ingredients.

I have sampled this salsa. I have dabbled in the seasonal delicacies here. I know what flavors the weather brings.

  • Most of the poems featuring ants make them metaphor for how infinitesimally small we are in the cosmos: https://hellopoetry.com/words/ants/. A bit more creative, some poets make them industrious little builders. Of course, there are also the picnic destroyers. I like to think of these insects as the Oaxacans do, as a special food delivered by the rains, as sustenance, as sport. How can you freshen a metaphor by drawing from a different culture’s views?

I Have Jesus’s Rookie Card

IMG_7786.JPGThe question and answer session was conducted in Polish by an impossibly young priest.

The quiz was not for us; we were only tourists watching the show (and surreptitiously taking photos of the exchange). But we were still nervous.

  • The last time you attended church was?
  • The reason you are giving your donation to the church is?
  • The eldest child is not present this evening; is she part of a parish in her college’s town?

We nearly cheered when we realized we had the answers.

Even we understood the contribution will support improvements to the windows in the church, even we could describe how cold the sanctuary is, how the inside, in winter, is nearly as cold as the outside, how, despite all of the kneeling and rising, parishioners need parkas and gloves.

Even we had noticed, from the jam-packed back of the holiday crowd the Sunday before, the skinny altar boys wore puffy jackets beneath their ample robes.

The family presented the clergy “man” with cash, cake, and delight for his visit.

In turn, he offered us a blessing in the form of something that reminded us of a Topps trading card for Jesus.

***

This week in Creative Writing, the students are developing a dossier for a character.

Like a rookie card, the dossier showcases the protagonist’s strengths, statistics, and trivia.

***

 

 

Sunday’s Child

IMG_8464It is winter, and the language exchange in the Home Depot parking lot continues. We talk about Trump’s politics, the Spring-like weather that has arrived for our class time (though there will be rain the rest of the week), what we had for dinner, what we did on Sunday.

Ariel wants to practice the seasons in English. We learn them and drill on them for a half an hour, mixing these new words with days of the week, months, colors, and questions to make sure he remembers the words. He does.

It is the Monday of midterms and the guys ask, “When will your English-speaking students join us?” I reply, “No puedo adviniar.” (I am not able to guess, predict, divine the answer to this.) And, this is one of the things I love about acquiring a new language.

Before knowing this verb in Spanish, I would utter only: “I don’t know.”

I go on quizzing: “Verano?” “Yes, summer.” “Azul? Okay, blue.” “Invierno?” “Right, winter.” “Viernes?” “Yes, Friday.”

I think about how I was born on Sunday, in the US, in California, in the desert;  I know these are forces that have shaped the happiness and fortune in my life. I say the “Monday’s Child” rhyme out, in English in nearly the same singing way I offered “Roses are red” in a Valentine’s Day lesson.

Monday’s child is fair of face

Tuesday’s child is full of grace

Wednesday’s child is full of woe

Thursday’s child has far to go,

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay.

“Monday’s Child” is a fortune-telling song to predict a child’s character based on the day of the week of her birth. In addition to the day of the week, humans look for astrology, numerology, graphology, palmistry, tarot, crystal balls, runes, tea leaves, ouija boards, pendulums, scrying mirrors, even a magic 8 ball to lend us wisdom into the universe, to help us know more than we do, to divine.

  • What prophets, soothsayers, clairvoyants, seers, or oracles might inform your story?