Friday, June 8, 2007

Studying Spanish


Lately my adventures in speaking Spanish have revolved around food and doctors. Since we arrived in Mexico there have been a lot of men with things to say to Adam—the panga drivers, the fishermen, the guys working by the side of the road, the men lying in hammocks under mango trees. But now I am drawing my share of attention. When I go to buy vegetables or roast chicken the ladies selling it have begun to ask, “Estas esperando bébé?” To which I reply, “Si, hace seis meses,” hoping that makes sense, and then I ask them about local obstetricians, since I’ve started to take for granted that every Mexican woman I meet is likely to be a mother or at the very least an aunt, and here’s my chance to practice conversing in this language that doesn’t exactly roll off my tongue quite yet, and plus I need to know. There are kids everywhere, women bring them to work in the restaurants, or the restaurants are in their homes, the children of Indian women are begging or selling trinkets and gum to the tourists, little boys go surfing and little girls run errands to the tienda de abarrotes, or grocery store. Sometimes there are several right next to each other, not in obvious competition. In Colimilla, the vertical town a short kayak away from our boat, each one carries the staples—Corn Flakes and Choco-Something, canned jalapenos and carrots en escabeche, vegetable oil, ice cream bars, mass-produced pastries, maybe some cucumbers, avocados, and tomatoes, and a cooler full of Coke and Sprite (“esprita”)—and then a few unique things, maybe cat food if we’re lucky, or the better brand of butter. (That’s the butter that doesn’t have artificial flavors and BHT—I notice this after consuming a couple of sticks.) So I hear about a doctor in nearby Cihuatlan, apparently a very popular one since he is one of only two I’ve discovered. I’m instructed to go to the main street and ask anyone where his office is. But I’m too intimidated to ask and wander around until finally I see the sign. I walk into a long hallway full of pregnant ladies with men and kids, sitting on what I soon find to be incredibly uncomfortable sofas watching “12 Corazones,” a Mexican daytime show that’s on pretty much every TV I’ve ever seen turned on in Mexico during the day. It’s based on astrological signs, six men and six women hoping to connect. I have a lot of time to watch and think about this show and the telenovela that comes after it since the doctor doesn’t make appointments and we are all just waiting our turn. Finally I walk into a dimly lit room and encounter a youngish man behind a desk. I assume, correctly, that this is Dr. Covarrubias and that he does not speak English. We trade words back and forth, me stumbling a bit, the doctor mumbling, and I have the general sense that we are understanding each other. When it’s time for the inevitable ultrasound I’m motioned over to an army cot covered with a brown blanket next to an ancient computer monitor. I try not to look too much at the morphing skeletal blob, but Dr. Covarrubias keeps trying to show me various body parts that only he can decipher in the black and white static of the screen. He points to something he claims is the mouth and begins to make odd popping sounds with his own mouth, to indicate what he sees it doing. When I ask why it’s doing that, he says, “It wants to eat.” Which sort of haunts me.

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