Thursday, July 3, 2008

Arrived safe and sound. But thinking I should have taken Spanish in High School.

Good morning! This entry is coming at you from the Central American Republic of El Salvador. I could attempt to drop the occasional Spanish phrase or word into these postings, but let's be real: That's obnoxiously cutesy. I don't know a lick of Spanish, and I'm not going to pretend that I can do anything besides say please and thank you. Those are probably the most important words to know diplomatically anyway.

The flights were fine. On the leg from Houston to San Salvador I sat between an elderly woman who was visually impaired (only spoke Spanish) and an elderly man who reminded me of my Grandpa Dorian (also spoke only Spanish). I sat down between them, the old man beamed, I smiled back, he said a few word, my face fell as I apologized that I didn't speak Spanish. He sighed, probably thinking, "Well, this is going to be a boring three hours. The girl can't even talk." I was also only one of two white chicks on the plane. I stuck out a wee bit.

But Senor Gomez and I made do. He was very sweet. When the steward was handing out declaration forms and visa forms the steward looked at me and said, "He's [Sr. Gomez] is illiterate. You're going to have to help him fill these out." Um. Okay. I explained to the steward that I don't speak or read Spanish. His reply, "Well, it says in English on the forms what you need." Gee. Thanks. I'll ask Sr. Gomez the questions in English. That will be productive.

I asked Sr. Gomez for his passport. I filled in as much of the forms as I could. Name, birthdate, country of origin, etc. I managed to ask if he was traveling alone. And how many bags he had with him. But then we got to the quesitions like, "Have you recently been exposed to agricultural products or animals, and are you transporting any plants, animals or other live species into the country?" This was not going to happen. Even if I sounded out the words in Spanish I was going to be incoherent at best. I tapped the shoulder of a 16 year old kid in front of me. I gave him my best "Please help" smile and asked him if he could help read the questions to Sr. Gomez. Of course this kid speaks fluent Spanish and English, making my shame factor increase. He read the questions and Sr. Gomez answered. For the record, the kid asking the questions read the questions, thought about them for a minute, and then paraphrased them. So even in Spanish the questions must have been oddly worded.

I thanked the kid profusely, and then showed Sr. Gomez that he had to sign the document. I wasn't sure if, or how, he'd sign. I gave him my pen and said, "Firma" and pointed to the signature line. He took the pen, a little bashful, and said, "Donde?" I pointed at the line again and he slowly made an O then a G and then a M. OGM. It was rough, but it was his signature. I said, "Perfecto". He smiled I smiled and then we both slept the rest of the way to El Sal. When we came down through the clouds and caught our first sight of the country, Sr. Gomez excitedly patted my hand and pointed out the window. He seemed pleased to be coming home, and showing it off to the girl sitting next to him. I smiled. And ooohed and ahhed appropriately.

So all in all, the flights were interesting. And then I got off the plane and saw my husband standing there in his khakis, waiting for me. And then there was hugging, and kissing. And it was good.

I'll see what I can post from down here. Maybe not every day. But we'll see. It's warm. And humid. And different. We'll discuss driving habits later. (Preview: YIKES!)

No comments: