Notes from Bolivia

April 19

I’m not very good at Spanish. Six years of study in the Hingham Massachusetts Public Schools and all I could say when I arrived was, “Tengo una cita con Anita” (“I have an appointment….”) The worst part: there’s no one here named Anita. The funniest thing I’ve accidentally said is, “I have the flavor of an orange.” I also recently asked if syringes were called gringas (the feminine plural of gringo, a quasi-derogatory term for foreigners). They’re actually called jeringas. The nurses thought this was hysterical.

Then there’s the Bolivian accent. Instead of trilling their R’s for words that begin with R or contain the letter RR, they make a Z sound. So rico becomes zico, as in, “Esta sopa es zico, ¿no?” “Zico, hmm, I don’t know. I could tell you if I knew what the hell ‘zico’ meant.” There’s nothing like having to translate words first into Spanish and then into English. That’s what you call a “conversation stopper.”

Then there’s Aymará, the indigenous language spoken by most of the people in the (really) rural areas around here. All I’ve been taught to say is “waliki,” which I think means “good” or “well” or “I’m fine” or maybe “Your mother is a horse.”Very useful for communicating in the campo.

The one nice thing about the language barrier is that sometimes I use it as an excuse to just tune out. I think I’ll miss that when I return home.

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