The Spanish Classes … and Other Stuff

6 06 2009

I guess I will try to post an update before I lose all my readers!  It has been difficult to find time this week, because I have been volunteering three hours during the afternoons at an orphanage here.  I will try to post about that before too long.

I replaced my camera on … Thursday, I think.  This one doesn’t have a data cable, and I don’t have a memory adaptor for this type of memory, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do about pictures.  As there’s only a week left, I may just try to post some photo “albums” after I get back home.  We’ll see.  Electronics stuff is more expensive here than at home.

The Other Stuff … I guess that the camera would fall under that.  I think it’s just interesting enough to write about.  I looked around for cameras after mine was stolen last Friday, and they were all really high prices for really basic models.  I asked Marcelo, and he pointed me in a direction or two, but I couldn’t find anything.  So on the hike Saturday, Orlando pulled out a camera, and on a whim I asked him about buying digital cameras.  He said he could help me with that – there are used ones at the farmer’s market.  I commented that mine was probably there, then.

I was a little leery of the “used” cameras.  Orlando or Marcelo told me, though, that they’re actually imported from somewhere, or something like that, or that they’re pawned – After getting this one and looking it over for a while, I have my doubts.

But anyway, on Monday I told Marcelo that Orlando had offered to help me, but hadn’t said anything else about it Saturday.  He got in touch with him again, and we tried to make connections on Wednesday.  I waited on a street corner for half an hour at least, but nothing came of that.  On Thursday, Orlando was supposed to come by the school again when classes let out at noon.  Marcelo, Emily (who wanted to go on a hike), and I waited for a long time, but he didn’t show up.  Emily finally left, and Marcelo and I were leaving when Orlando appeared.  He apologized for the day before … He’d met some friends, and forgot all about meeting me (this in fifteen minutes after talking to me).

He was great.  He flagged a taxi.  He asked the taxi driver to stop by an ATM, and waited on me while I withdrew some more money.  (It makes me nervous to do that when I’m by myself and have to leave with quite a bit of cash). I didn’t have any small coins, and he paid the taxi driver out of his own pocket.

Then we headed into the farmer’s market, which is a gigantic area covering several blocks.  He led me straight to three different stores with new cameras and asked for prices, which he was able to remember (I wasn’t).

After that, he headed for a used “store.”  As he pointed out to me, there are no areas designated for pedestrians in the streets within the market, and he watched out for me a lot closer than when we were on the mountain.  I just stuck close.   As we got to the store, the fellow tending it had just locked the door and was probably heading home for lunch.  I would have left, but Orlando, with a few friendly words and the hope of a sale, got him to unlock the door again and show us a Sony camera.  It was in the box and had a sticker still on it.  The new ones cost $170, according to Orlando’s memory, and this one cost 700 Bs. ($100).  On top of that, Orlando told me to take it and use it while I was here, and if I don’t like it, he’ll buy it from me before I leave.

I don’t have any idea why he did this for me.  He never said a word about money.  Instead of leaving me there, he led me back out of the market (and I could have survived on my own), and asked me if I had coins for the taxi, reaching for his pocket as he asked.  I said I was fine with taking the bus, so he found the right one and even gave the driver a hint about where I needed to get off.  I gave him some money before leaving, and I don’t believe he minded, but he didn’t seem to expect it either.

Bolivia can seem a little unfriendly at times and in places, but with people like this here, you can’t ever truly buy into that impression.  In fact, as I’m wrapping up my third week here, I feel like I’m seeing things more clearly, and meeting a lot more friendly people.  As the people probably aren’t changing, I assume I’m learning how to interact a little better.

Other Other Stuff … I made it to the mission by myself tonight, my 2nd time to try to make the Saturday night young people’s service.  I was there early for a 6:30 service, but it had been at 5:00.  I am improving all the time; I made it right to the church and didn’t get lost until I tried to go home.  Last Sunday night I got lost when I was within a block of the church, but at least people knew what I was after when I asked for directions.  I wandered around and used my head tonight until I found the right avenue again and came on back here to an Internet café a half-block from the house.  Sucre is so small that you can’t get seriously, irretrievably lost once you know where your house is located.

That was the Other Stuff.  I also undertook to discuss the Spanish Classes, didn’t I?  I’ve been enjoying them.  Although an artificial environment isn’t what I’m after, it is a little easier for outsiders to survive within those four walls.  Our first two weeks, with Marcelo, we were studying Bolivian history.  This last week, with María Elena, we covered indigenous culture, and during the four days of class next week we’re supposed to each read a different novel, sadly abridged.  I preferred Marcelo’s classes, but I would have a hard time explaining exactly why.  I suppose it’s his personality.

In his classes, and frequently with María Elena, the structure is like this.  We get there at 8:15, sort of.  After a few minutes, Marcelo would come strolling through the upper story, collecting his students (Devin, Emily, and me).  We would go up to his classroom and sit down around the table, and he would ask what we did the day before.  So we’d talk about any place we’d visited, and then one of us would want to know where such and such a place was, and we’d pull out our maps, and Marcelo would point out all the different points of interest.  Then we’d talk about one of those.  And after a little while, somebody would comment on some point of local culture or behavior we’d noticed.  So we would talk about that, and Marcelo would tell a story about why it was that way, and then he’d ask whether it was like that in the US.  We’d all three share our different experiences and viewpoints about that.

After 45 minutes to an hour, he would say, “Bueno, chicos,” and start talking about Bolivian history.  That would remind him of some related point of history from a totally different time period, and he would explain that to us, promising that we would cover it more thoroughly later on.  Then … the bell would ring, and the first 2-hour session was over.

There would be a 15-minute break, after which the bell would ring again, and we would all be clustered in a spot of sun that hits the indoor balcony around the patio.  Marcelo would come out and lean against the railing, and we might discuss plans for the weekend with different students while Marcelo gave his advice.  Eventually, he would lead the way back up to class, where we’d pull out the maps or ask another question, and after a half hour or so we’d wind our way back to some random point of Bolivian history.

I really have learned a lot about Bolivian history, considering I knew very little before, and I’ve had a lot of discussion practice.

Three times last week, with María Elena, we left the site during the second half of classes to visit a point of interest in town.  That was interesting.

Yesterday, we arrived late, as usual, and came to the classroom to discuss indigenous culture.  She had assigned presentations for us to prepare and make posters for, and we were more or less ready for those.  I hadn’t had glue, so she let me go to the office and borrow some.  Then we sat down ready to give our presentations, and discussed student loans and tuition in the US, and how some students manage their money, and that led to healthcare in the US, and healthcare in Bolivia, and abortion.  When there was about 5 minutes left, the teacher said she didn’t want to waste that time, so she taught us three phrases and responses in Quechua, the local indigenous language.

Then it was the break, and I used the internet till the bell rang.  After that, we all went out and sat down in the sun where Marcelo and his student for this week, Marc, were enjoying themselves.  After a little while, María Elena joined us.

The fact of the matter is that just after the end of the break, Marcelo figured out how to “push Emily’s buttons,” as we say, and he was determined to play that game to the end.  She revealed her weakness herself at first, being upset about stereotypes about poor people in a movie she and Marc had seen.  And Marcelo really had her going about that for quite a while before he ran out of material there and moved to … women’s rights or feminism or whatever.  That worked just about as well.  He planted himself in the shade, as we were all quite warm by then, with his feet well apart, and his hands in his jeans pockets, and his long hair on his shoulders – I think his sunglasses were pushed up on his head – and some of his biggest grins playing across his face, and he told a joke/riddle in Spanish, supposedly to expose the Bolvian machista attitude about women.  But as I mentioned, he was enjoying himself to the full.

So an hour after the end of break, Marcelo ran out of anything to say, and we went up to the much less interesting classroom and gave our presentations.  They were pretty decent, if I do say so myself.  Then María Elena brought us back out to the sun, and we sat down and read out loud a paper on tribes in the Amazon.  We were going to discuss it, but she remembered she needed to give us the books to start for next week.  She got those and passed them out, and we decided how much of them we needed to read for Monday, and she agreed, and we discussed a little bit of the paper we’d read, and the second two-hour period was over, and we all went home for lunch.

As I said, I’ve been enjoying Spanish class here a lot.




One response

9 06 2009

A dear reader reminded me by email that some Spanish isn’t necessarily as obvious as I thought to people who haven’t studied it for 4 years … who could imagine?
So… “machista” means something like “male-dominated” or the putting down of women. It has the same root as “macho.”

“Bueno, chicos,” means something like “OK, guys.” “Chicos” literally refers to young people.

If I miss more stuff that needs translating, please remind me!

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