I expected the first week or two to be my tough weeks, since I didn’t know any Spanish. Because of my friends in Santiago, and because of my teachers (who made learning such basic phrases easy and fun) I managed to get along pretty well. This week, I was frustrated that I had not made more progress.
It began on Tuesday with the need to get change for the bus. My beautiful balcony with its ocean view is too far from school to walk. I actually need to take the bus. This is an adventure all by itself and Tuesday epitomized the entire daily experience. But before I go further, please let me say that I actually enjoy taking the bus (now). I do see it all as part of living in Chile. Living in a country is so much more important to me than just traveling there. I feel I get more a sense of the culture and how people live.
There is no card for the bus (no Smart Cards here in Vina), so you have to pay cash for every trip. What I really wanted was to go to a bank and get a roll of change. Bus tickets are so cheap (about 50 cents/trip) that I just wanted change on hand to carry with me. I asked at school about my dilemma, and they recommended that I go to the grocery store or gas station and just ask for change. They gave me the phrase to use (necisito sencilla). So off I went. I was fine until the lady at the cash register talked to me. I can speak well enough to be understood (most of the time) but I cannot understand anything anyone is saying to me outside class. Hence my frustration. I can’t answer basic questions.
So I left the store (with no small bills, but enough change to get home). Sigh. Then I get to take the bus.
I have learned which buses to take (and not to take), how to “call” the bus – since you actually need to hold out your hand like you’re calling a taxi to make sure the bus stops for you. It doesn’t happen automatically. I have learned how to ask for the correct ticket. Today I even learned how to ask for the stop I need. Some bus drivers are nice (like today). Some are not. Tuesday, I happened to encounter an unhappy bus driver.
I buy the wrong ticket (of course). I try to ask for my stop (following careful instructions from David of when to stand up and move to the front of the bus). Leaving the bus can be just as much effort as getting on the bus. There are sometimes buttons to push to request a stop. More often, there are not. So just like I have to “call” the bus when I want to hop on, I need to actually speak to the driver when I want to stop. And remember what I was saying about having trouble understanding people? How many of us understand bus drivers in our native tongue? How in the world am I really supposed to do this??
As you can imagine, it doesn’t go well. I try to say “next stop” in Spanish (siguiente parada) and fail. I end up pointing to the next stop. The driver comes to a screeching halt after an angry string of Spanish which I am grateful not to understand. They drive soooo fast – I had no idea buses could even GO this fast! He opens the door while we are still moving fairly rapidly – like wind whipping in your face rapidly. A woman behind me says something, which I’m sure meant, “are you getting off or what?” I say, “si” and think to myself, yes, once he stops moving! I feel like I might die. I got off that bus and just breathed for a moment, thankful that my day was done. Because I was done. No more Spanish. No more adventures. No more trying. I just wanted a (short) run, a glass of wine (or 2 or 3) and some dinner. And of course my ocean view sunset.
The run helped me to feel better. The wine and dinner did more. Then David comes home. This is normally something I had already learned to look forward to, as he is very friendly, easy to get along with and speaks very good English. I absolutely wanted to begin practicing my Spanish with him, but not that night. So you can imagine the first thing he says when he sits down with me – that I should practice Spanish (en Espanol, por supuesto). Nope. Not going to happen. I can’t even muster up the courage to tell him about my day – which would have made him laugh (and did, the next evening). I just went to bed.
The next day was much better. I decided to try another adventure – the shopping mall. Why, you ask, would I want to go the mall when I was in Chile? Don’t we have those at home? Yes, yes we do, but the mall has a lovely grocery store, which has actual coffee and quinoa. I needed both. The shopping mall also seemed like a sufficiently adventurous undertaking that I might actually be able to handle (being an American and all – we can navigate shopping malls).
Success! I even indulged in some retail therapy. (See below) The rest of the week was OK, having good moments and tough moments. By the end of the week, I felt much more comfortable on the bus and have re-engaged my favorite shows on Netflix (in English and Spanish) to help me get more listening practice in. I practice with the English-speaking shows to see how they translate into Spanish, and I practice listening to Spanish movies/shows (with Spanish subtitles) to connect sounds with words.
This was a long post, and I apologize for that. If you are still with me, stay tuned for next week’s episode. There is a birthday party, live music and lots and lots of alcohol. Perfect way to end the week.