In the past 2 years since I've returned to Baltimore, virtually the only new friends and acquaintances I've made are either from another city or another country. In my experience Baltimoreans are extremely cold people who rarely make eye contact. Ironically, the only people in the last 2 weeks who have spoken to me (short of cashiers) were from outside of the U.S.! Since I'm carless I'm even more aware of who does and does not want to connect.
This true story happened on Saturday. I was sitting in front of the cafe when a Latino man happened by. He happened by twice in about a 30 minute period. Each time I smiled and since he did make eye contact he smiled back. The second time he happened by, he was walking and reading which is something that I rarely see anyone do. When I asked him the following question, I fully knew that he might not understand English. With this in mind, I paraphrase for you our approximately 4 hour encounter.
Keep this in mind as you read the story. He doesn't understand written or spoken English, I can't understand his Honduran Spanish, and I speak only VERY, VERY BROKEN SPANISH at best!
E-"What are you reading?"
(do you speak english?)
E-"Que es el libro?
(what is the name of your book?)
H-He hands me the book.
E-"Ahhh!" "Su regulationes por su trabajar!" "Lee ingles?"
(aaah, your employee handbook! you read english?)
H-No lee ingles!
E=No lee ingles? Su amigo ayudate?
(You don't read English, I assume someone is helping you with the book?)
Hector and I get acquainted, albeit painstakingly with our language barrier. He has a wife and 4 children back in Honduras. I think he has only been in Baltimore for one month.
E-"Tu quieres para me ayadate por su libro?"
(do you want me to help you with the book?)
E-I take my notebook out and tell Hector,
"Yo tengo cuaderno and pluma, un minuto"
(I do have a notebook and a pen, one moment.)
I look at his handbook and realize two things. My Spanish isn't decent enough to communicate this entire book to him. As our meeting goes on, I realize that the way he'll learn his job duties is by word of mouth. There are many other latinos working with him, and many Hondurans. I also think to myself: "Latinos make excellent employees and are usually living hand to mouth, he doesn't need to know about the retirement plan!" I tell him as best as I can, that I can help with the book but he should get other help too.
It was pretty fun going through the book with him and intuiting what would matter to him. . I figure hell get paid under the table.
The drug policy is at least 3 paragraphs long. I take my pen and start writing in his book. Right above the page about drugs, I wrote: "POR FAVOR, NO USA DROGAS!" (PLEASE DON'T USE DRUGS!)
We both laughed. In the section about direct deposit I had one heck of a time figuring out how to translate this into Spanish. I strongly doubted that he'd want it. I was right. He told me that as each paycheck arrives, he will wire most of it back to Honduras to his family!
I knew he wouldn't be late to work, so I didn't bother trying to explain the POLICY ON TARDINESS. There was a section about RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS so I asked him:
E-USTED ES CATOLICO?
(are you catholic?)
E-Si tu necesitas tiempo por iglesia diga su jefe.
(If you need time off for holidays, just ask your boss.)
There was a section on how he is not supposed to speak Spanish with the customers! I thought that was comical, and wrote in his book: HABLA INGLES CON SUS CLIENTES! We laughed at that too, as we both know that that is impossible!
As we went through the handbook, I told him that I have taught English in the past. I wrote stuff out in my notebook such as MY NAME IS HECTOR/ME LLAMO HECTOR and asked him to repeat it. We did this off and on for the next few hours, incorporating a walk through Homeland, one of the wealthiest Baltimore city neighborhoods.
As we walked through Homeland I would say stuff like:
ELLA LE GUSTA A TRABAJAR EN SU JARDIN. And I would ask him to repeat my English;
" SHE LIKES TO WORK IN THE GARDEN."
He retaught me the word for rabbit as we saw a rabbit and birds and bugs and such. I sang to him one of my favorite commercials explaining to him that it was about a flea collar for pets. I described perros and gatos singing. (dogs and cats singing) and then broke out in English song. Then I translated it into broken Spanish. (I do not remember what he said the word for bugs is but lets just pretend for a moment that he said the word was "bogas")
I began to sing: (p.s. do you know this commercial?)
THERE AIN'T NO BUGS ON ME
THERE AIN'T NO BUGS ON ME
THERE MIGHT BE BUGS ON SOME OF YOU MUGS BUT THERE AIN'T NO BUGS ON ME!
THEN I SANG IN SPANISH!
HAY NO BOGAS EN MI
HAY NO BOGAS EN MI
TAL VEZ HAY BOGAS EN ALGUNAS DU SUS ANIMALES
HAY NO BOGAS EN MI!
(HE LOVED THE SONG)
As we were sitting by the pond, he said:
ESTE ES LA VIDA!
(THIS IS THE LIFE!)
A little girl of about 5 came over to say hi to us and motioned to an 85 year old STATUE of a little girl who was green and wearing a grape leaf hat. (on Clearspring avenue, do you know which one I mean?) The little girl said to us that she helped keep the statue warm in the winter by putting a scarf and hat on it. We chatted about how old the statue might be and the fact that I saw her dancing earlier. I told her I also love to dance. I asked her if she lives nearby and she said no. I said I don't live near here either, and my friend is from another country called Honduras. She said:
I LOVE THAT COUNTRY!
I told her mom that her daughter says she "loves Honduras!"
YOU'VE BEEN IN HONDURAS?! the mom asked the daughter.
Anyhow, Hector and I continued our field trip/English lesson. We stopped for coffee and I showed him the bookstore.
I always come home by dark since I have no car and Balto. is so dangerous. It's a little after dark and I tell him good night.
H-TU NO INVITA ME EN SU APARTMENTO?
(You aren't going to invite me into your apartment?)
E-PORQUE TO QUIERES A BEBE Mi!
(BECAUSE YOU WILL WANT TO DRINK ME!)
e-PORQUE Tu QUIERES A BESA ME!
(Because you will want to kiss me)
H-PORQUE ES UN PROBLEMA? PORQUE CASI?
(Why is that a problem, because I am married?
E-Si. Y porque yo tengo eticos!
(yes and because i have strong ethics)
He doesn't understand what I mean.
E-PORQUE TENGA MORALES LARGAS!
(Because I have big morals!)
H-aaah. (He's a little dissapointed. Perhaps he thought a North American woman would be a little looser?!)
E-BUENAS NOCHES HECTOR! ADIOS!
H-BUENAS NOCHES ELENA!