I didn’t leave the country for long enough to miss anything. And truthfully, I didn’t want to come home.
There is, however, one thing that is nice about being home – English.
I spoke approximately 500 words in Spanish during my trip (1,000 attempts at words ended up not being words)
- 50% were “si” - 30% were “bueno” - 5% were items on a menu that I was simultaneously pointing at - The remaining 15% were improperly conjugated verbs
A couple weeks before my trip I submitted a list to my brother, who lives there and speaks fluent Spanish, of things that I wanted to do while I was visiting. Most of the list was composed of things like surfing, drinking rum, or laying on the beach. Most of these were easily accomplished. Without much thought I included that I wanted to “have a 20 second conversation with a Panamanian in Spanish.”
My brother, always wanting me to have a cultural experience in addition to a good time, constantly reminded me of my goal. On the second day I realized how long 20 seconds actually was.
We were fishing in the Pacific Ocean, and I had just caught my first fish. I felt good, the sun was shining and the wind was in my hair. I was sitting a few feet away from our captain, and I turned to him and said in Spanish, “The fishing here is very good.” He nodded, and I’m not sure if he understood me. I didn’t time it, but I’m guessing this non-conversation lasted about four seconds. No matter how special you feel when you’re talking to someone in another language, it’s just not very special to the person that hears it.
Here are a couple other attempts at conversation, most failed to elicit a response, none lasted more than 10 seconds.
“This isn’t my house … I don’t know.” “I like the Atlanta Braves.” “What type of tree is that?” “Is the airport more big than here?”
It’s a frustrating and helpless feeling when you can’t fully engage in what is happening around you. It’s worse when you have to completely rely on your older brother, and just behind his face, he’s rolling his eyes at you.
It makes you feel like you’re an inferior being. And for nearly two weeks I felt less intelligent than everyone around.
By the end, I’d added an item to another list.
My life goals:
1. Raise a child. 2. Love a woman. 3. Have a career I'm proud of. 4. Learn a foreign language.