Finding My (Foreign) Words

 By definition, writers love words. They are the building blocks for our tales. We obsess over them. We debate about their use and how they should be punctuated. We even become animated each year when several new words are entered, if not universally welcomed into the dictionary.            I love words. Any author that sends me to a dictionary has won a fan. I used to keep a notebook to list the words I didn’t know in a book so I could look them up. Now when reading on my Kindle I need only highlight and press.            I wouldn’t have thought I took words for granted, but now that I am traveling extensively, I must confess to exactly that.            In Greece, I was grateful to have a tour guide who saw her role more as a professor. She helped our group understand key words we needed to use. I was grateful that she was so generous, but frustrated that I couldn’t find my words on my own. I learned firsthand where the phrase, “It’s all Greek to me,” originated.            When I went to Italy for the third time, I decided it was time to take a course in advance of our trip. Just an adult ed. class, which was supposed to be fun. It turned out to be not what I expected, but I did learn enough Italian to order food and wine competently.              Provence during lavender season had been on my bucket list since before we talked about bucket lists. Since my Italian class had disappointed, I decided I would learn on my own through an audio book/course. I loved studying languages in high school. I took French, Spanish, and Latin. Why I remember the lyrics to “The Red Rubber Ball” better than any word I learned in those classes escapes me.              Still, I was enthusiastic as I sat in traffic repeating, “Il n’y pas de quoi,” like a fool. I learned how useless much of what I learned was when we had a suitcase stolen off the bus in Provence and ended up in the Aix police station.            Now I am in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for eight weeks, what locals are calling, “The Fun Side of the Wall”, a fairly long time to spend in a country whose language you don’t speak. While I am fortunate to have a dear friend, who is both a Mexican and U.S. citizen, spending the same time here, I am reminded about how important words are for even the most basic needs. Victor’s generosity in teaching the culture and language of this beautiful country inspire me to forge on and learn.            I thought I had bathrooms (“banos”) down, knowing “Damas” signaled the ladies room. But then I went somewhere that didn’t use it on either bathroom door. In the grocery store, the sugar and the salt looked the same, both packaged in plastic bags. “Sel” struck a bell with me, a small victory I carried over to buying butter (“mantequilla”) with (“con”) or without (“sin”) sel.            I am humbled by my ignorance, challenged to overcome it, because I know not only do I love my words, I need them. I want to embrace the cultures and stories of the places I visit from the tongues of the people who live there.            Victor promises me I will learn by listening and opening my heart to the experience available to me while I am in Mexico. I keep trying because now I know, words are not only the building blocks of stories, they are the nexus between one human being to another. I have mastered another sentence to that end. Me gustaria aprender un poco de su lengua (indigena). I’d like to learn some of your (indigenous) language. The sign over the door reads “Yo Los Contre,” “I found them.” I like to think it means I found my words.   

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