Spanish Slip Ups!

Just the other day Isa, one of the 8th graders, exploded with laughter. It was my fault. I seem to be very good at making my students laugh. Not because I’m a great stand up comedian. No, that would probably mean my classes were entertaining.

Most of the time my students laugh at me for things I don’t understand. Like one time I was at a birthday party. A group of 8th grade boys, they’re in 9th now and much more mature now, were asking me questions in Spanish. They couldn’t control their laughter. Apparently I was saying yes to a bunch of ridiculously inappropriate questions. They still haven’t told me what they were talking about and now I know not to say yes to things I don’t understand. 

My Spanish has improved greatly from that night when I may or may not have said yes to liking certain really gross things like cats or butterflies (I am just guessing here). Yet, I still have slip ups.

I was in my Spanish class a couple of weeks ago and Letty, my teacher, asked me, “Do you have a girlfriend here in Guatemala?”

I chuckled and answered with a sad, “No.”

“Are you looking for one?” She responded quickly.

“I have friends who were helping me,” I said stifling a laugh.


“The secretary at my school said she would look for me.” Or at least that is what I meant to say, remember all of this is in Spanish, the only part I was sure of was when I’d responded with a sad no. What I actually said was, “Yasi is good looking for me.” Letty started to chortle and at first I didn’t really know why. Then I realized what I had said and a hard long laugh erupted from deep in my gut. After I regained my breath I explained to Letty that my secretary was just my friend and that I wasn’t interested in her because she’s married and has a child. Now every time I go to my Spanish classes, Letty gives me a hard time. At least Letty didn’t hear my next slip up.

So, why did Isa laugh? Well, it was lunch time and I was on duty down in the middle school building. I was making my rounds through the building. Checking on the students, just the usual. Isa was sitting by the microwaves with her friend Danitza. These girls love it when I make a mistake with my Spanish and so sometimes they try to bait me. But I was being careful. It didn’t matter. I set the trap for myself.

Isa had a Pizza Hut box and so I asked, “Are you having Pizza?” Earlier this question worked to get me a slice of Pizza from one of the 6th graders, but this time I received a “I’m too cool for this,” response, which I guess is the difference between a 6th grade boy and an 8th grade girl. But then I looked at the box and realized my error. She wasn’t eating Pizza, she was eating a Calzone!

I love those. So I said, “Nice Calzone. How is it?” Isa and Danitza looked at me and then their laughter started to build like a giant title wave.

“What did you say, mister?” Isa replied.

“Calzone,” I stated cautiously, what had I done wrong? They started to laugh harder and wouldn’t tell me what I had just done. All I could do was stand there confused, but then Isa tossed me the second half of her calzone. She must have been feeling sorry for me, but not sorry enough to let me in on what I’d just said.

Fortunately Yasi, my secretary who I am not interested in, was able to help me out. After stifling a laugh she explained to me the error of my ways. In Spanish Calzone pronounced Kal-zown means women’s underwear. I’d just asked my 8th grader if she was eating girl’s panties.

Twenty-Sixth Birthday!

On the day I turned twenty-six, just hours before my small celebration, I nearly died. This marks the second time I nearly died on my birthday. The other being the day I was born. I was premature and almost didn’t make it past the delivery room. I am very fortunate that the doctors knew what they were doing and were able to save my life. But on my twenty-sixth birthday, if not for one of the millions of speed bumps here in Guatemala my fortune might have changed. Speed bumps, or as they are called here tumilos, are actually illegal in Guatemala. But that doesn’t stop people from erecting them in front of their houses. Most small towns along the Pan American Highway have at least one tumilo for ever person living in the town (not kidding). Typically I curse these stupid speed bumps. But now I owe one my life.

It so happens that the tiny one way street I walk down every day on my way home from the gym only has two speed bumps, well one full one and one that’s been chiseled away by annoyed motorists. I’ve walked this street manny times, it’s almost second nature. So, on my birthday I was thinking more about being twenty-six and what that meant for my life than my walk home. It’s funny what a birthday can make you think about. Thoughts of future relationships and the desire to start a family drifted through my brain. A glimpse of my life as a writer floated in front of my eyes. Right now I am teaching in Guatemala, but at twenty-six is that where I want to be for another year? Can I find what I am looking for down here? Do I want to go back to school and could I do that while I’m living here? Just teaching was okay for twenty-five, but the passing of another year sure makes me wonder. So, I was deep in thought and rocking out to Snow Patrol when I decided to cross the street.
The traffic for the one-way street is supposed to come up the street towards the gym, the opposite direction I was walking, so I could watch the on coming traffic. As I was about to cross the street, a car turned up the street so I adjusted my pace accordingly and stepped off the sidewalk to cross before the car sped past me. Unfortunately here in Guatemala one way streets are really just a suggestion. Like flossing or changing your oil, no one really does it. I should have known that a car would be coming the wrong way on the one-way street. But I was to busy enjoying my birthday. So, I stepped out on the street and, Wham! Whack! However you describe being rammed into by a car and flung into the air. I landed on my feet a couple of yards away from the car. Instantly I started pointing with my index finger at the car, trying to help him realize that he was going the wrong way. Then like a spike being hammered into the train tracks I realized I’d just been blindsided by a car, on my birthday. Is this what I want out of my life? As I stood shaken next to the curb the car zoomed off and I was left to walk home with a sore knee, hip, and elbow.
Why didn’t the accident do more damage to me? Was my health my birthday present from God? The car had just crossed over the speed bump and started to speed back up when it nailed me. These speed bumps might not be legal, but I am sure thankful for the one that helped save my life. The rest of my birthday was great. And I am very thankful for all of the Birthday wishes I received. Here’s to turning twenty-six and having a shot at turning twenty-seven!