Today was one of the most mentally exhausting and confusing days of my life.
After a 7am arrival at the bus terminal in Mendoza, I hurriedly transported my luggage and myself on the local bus to my new school in time for orientation at 8am. Breathless, overloaded with luggage, and down one hoodie that somehow got lost on the way to the school from the bus stop, I was ten minutes late, which is in fact early according to Argentinian time.
I took a quiz which proved I know not a word of Spanish and was placed in the beginners’ class. A morning of conversation class in which I attempted to introduce myself, identify my home country, and describe my profession was followed by a grammar class where I learned what sounds correspond with what letters.
It was mid-afternoon, and I started to doze off in the lobby of the school as I waited for my new family to pick me up and take me to their home. Nora arrived shortly with her two gorgeous college-age daughters, Paula and Valentina, in tow.
We exchanged kisses on the cheek, they grabbed my luggage, and we piled into Nora’s red hatchback. I wanted desperately to tell them how appreciative I was that they picked me up and were inviting me into their home, how excited I was for the next month. Instead I sat there nodding to the questions they rapidly asked me, recognizing only a few words in the barrage of conversation, such as Navidad and hermano. (Thank you Arrested Development.)
The girls deposited my luggage in my new room and Nora took me on a tour of the house, showing me where I could put all my clothes, introducing me to my new private bathroom, and asking me if I needed to wash my clothes. I wanted to explain that I had just laundered every article I own a few days ago after a water-soaking mishap on my bus to Mendoza, but instead my answer came across as a rude refusal.
Nora made licuado, juice of a variety of fruits liquidated in water with a hand blender, and we sat down for “merienda,” an afternoon snack of juice, coffee, tea, chocolate milk, cookies, bread with jams and other sweet spreads, and mate, a sort of tea drink made from dried yerba maté leaves that many Argentinians drink non-stop all day long. It was a fun time, although I felt very stupid every time the conversation was directed towards me and I had no idea what was said, let alone how to answer. Most of the time I just nodded, smiled, and made hand gestures to try to explain myself.
I did learn that Paula goes to university in Córdoba, Argentina’s second largest city, and is studying geology. Valentina lives at home and is studying engineering at a university in Mendoza. I tried to respond that my brother is also an engineer of computers, but I’m not sure if this came out right.
After a trip to the verduleria, where Nora asked me what fruits and veggies I like and introduced me to the friendly market owner, I unpacked my suitcase in my new room. It felt absolutely wonderful to arrange my few belongings and know I won’t have to pack up in a few days.
10pm rolled around, and it was finally time for dinner. Argentinians eat dinner very late, never before 9pm, and sometimes not even until 11pm or midnight. Since it was the day after Christmas, everyone was still in holiday mode. The girls’ dad, Leonardo, was a dinner guest along with his two housemates from Germany who had spoken Spanish since they were kids.
The dinner conversation was a deluge of Spanish phrases being rapidly exchanged across all sides of the table. I looked from person to person, trying to follow the conversation as the six native Spanish speakers joked, laughed, and frequently asked me questions.
Every time a question was directed at me, I would pause for a second, frowning in consternation trying to figure out if I recognized any of the words. Then I would try to guess what might be being asked of me. Then I would spout out random words, like San Francisco, or avocata, the French word for lawyer, or travahay, something that sounded like a word I had heard that day that I thought meant travel but actually means work and is not pronounced how I said it. Mostly I just looked around wide-eyed, feeling dumb and thinking these people must think I’m the stupidest person to ever walk this earth.
It was the most confused, uncomfortable, and awkward I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
The painful confusion will all be worth it though, when I can finally join in in a conversation like this. I’m not sure how long this will take, or how much studying this will entail, but I am determined to make it happen.
Until then, I must be content with nodding, smiling, and feeling awkward and confused.