Tuesday, September 18, 2012

To do: learn Spanish

If there's something to be learned about D.C., it's that you don't have any idea what it will be until it slaps you in the face.

It's been an eye-opening cultural experience. I hear new languages everywhere every day -- or so it seems, at least. I could be hearing the same foreign language over and over and wouldn't have the slightest clue. That has been my favorite thing about the city itself. It's a conglomeration of one hundred different countries.

Sometimes while on the metro, I look around and count how many different ethnicities I see in a single glance. I love that I often have to use two hands to keep count.

This past weekend, I made the daring trek to Buena Vista, VA, where Stephanie attends Southern Virginia University. The excursion would be significantly less noble had I brought a car out east. Alas, I did not, and was forced to rely on public transportation to get there.

I looked into a few different bus routes but determined that Greyhound was the best combination of affordability, practicality and convenience.

It cost me $45 for a round-trip from D.C. to Charlottesville, one of three Greyhound stops within 90 minutes and the only one of the three that didn't require traveling past Buena Vista (less bus time = less $). It was an hour and 15 minutes from her apartment, so she was forced to do a little (but dare I say less noble) driving to pick me up.

Unfortunately, I had to wait three hours at the Charlottesville bus station because I arrived at 1 p.m. on Friday and she has classes until 2:20. I sat there playing Total Annihlation: Kingdoms -- judge not -- on my laptop while akwardly avoiding eye contact with everyone who wanted to borrow my phone to "make a quick call."

Side note: I actually let two different people use my phone. Would not do it again, but I made it very clear when I let them use it that a) I planned to awkwardly hover over them for the entirety of their conversation, and b) I am fully capable of kicking their scrawny butts should they try anything funny. However, they were both teenagers (both boys, though I thought one of them was a girl until he started talking) with lots of luggage, so I knew they weren't going to go anywhere.

The only thing I actually enjoyed about the 6 hours of commute + waittime was helping out an older Mexican man who spoke no english. He got on the bus with me in D.C. where I asked him a question about how to board the bus (first-timer speaking). Wearing a "Mexico" hat, he responded with a friendly, silver-toothed smile, looked me in the eyes with his one real eye and it was immediately obvious he was as clueless as I was.

Every time we passed each other getting on or off the bus, he'd smile. I'd smile. He was just so darned adorable. I couldn't help myself.

When everyone was getting off the bus, he stayed on. He didn't understand the driver's announcement that everyone would be getting onto different buses. After the driver shooed him off, the most frantic look took over his friendly face. He panicked. With his carry-on in tow, he ran around the Charlottesville station throwing his ticket in people's faces in a desperate plea for help. He didn't know where to go. He couldn't read his ticket. He had no clue where he was. Lots of people dismissed him. Those who tried to help were failing miserably, under the ridiculous impression that speaking english slowly would somehow remedy the situation.

I couldn't hack watching the poor man suffer, so I was furiously sifting through possible solutions. I ran over the to bus driver and told him what was going on. His patience with the man had clearly worn thin, and he said, annoyed: "The man doesn't speak any english. He got off his bus in D.C. when he was supposed to have stayed on. We sent him on a different bus here because his original bus, the one with all of his luggage, will be coming through in 10 minutes. He just doesn't understand. I don't know what to tell you."

I ran over to the Mexican man, motioning him to sit down. I pointed to the clock and said "diez minuto." The spanish-speaking abilities stop at the number 15. I was totally guessing on the word minutes. I was only one letter short. Not half bad!

He immediately starting speaking spanish at 100 mph, under the impression that finally someone would be able to understand him. I had to explain (with hand motions, of course) that I actually didn't speak spanish. He laughed it off, obviously still worried.

Aha! I knew what to do! Call Stephanie! I called Steph, who happened to just be walking out of her spanish class, and asked her to tell me how to say "your bus is coming in ten minutes." The phone was too muffly, so I couldn't understand her well enough to repeat. I had her say it again and put the phone in his ear, but I don't think he could really hear either. I told her to text the phrase to me. She did.

I showed it to him, and he had NO CLUE what it said. I was so confused. What? Does he not speak spanish!?!? This whole time?!? We later determined that he was probably just illiterate, which made everything make a little more sense.

Just after this happened, a bus pulled into the station. He immediately grew wide-eyed. He didn't know if this was his bus. He started to run around frantically again. I hated every moment of watching this poor man feel so lost and confused.

I told him once again to sit and wait, and I ran over the the bus and approached the driver as he got off. I explained the situation to him and told him what the other driver had said. Turns out, this was the Dallas-bound bus the confused man didn't even know he was looking for. The driver came into the station with me, thanked me for my help and guided the man toward the bus. He looked at me and tried once again to speak to me in spanish. All I understood was "Virginia" which he pronounced "Vee-hee-nya." I laughed and signaled that I still couldn't understand him, and he just started to laugh. He followed the driver out to the bus and kept yelling "gracias! gracias!" in my direction.

Heart: warmed. It made my day... and inspired me to learn spanish. That's the next thing on the to-do list.

Eventually, Stephanie picked me up and I was able to spend a few wonderful, much-needed days hanging out with her and her friends. We went to a concert on Friday for a local band, watched movies, did homework and napped and gossiped on Saturday morning/afternoon. We went to a dance that night and then came home and laid out some blankets and sprawled out under the stars until 1 a.m.

I'm beyond happy to only be a six-hour journey away from her for a few months... even though everyone and their dog had to ask who the older one was while I was there.

1 comment:

Leslie B. said...

Estoy tan contenta de que visitó a su hermana! Buena suerte en su búsqueda para aprender español. Estoy tan contenta de que ayudó al hombre perdido. ¡Te quiero! mamá