Basket made from newspaper

The Joy of Solitude

Friday, May Day, was a fantastic day because I was alone, without threat of undesired company, all day long. That hasn’t happened since winter break. Vee and another housemate left town for the long weekend, and our male housemate is rarely ever here, leaving me and Kay, my fellow uberintrovert, to ourselves. I knew Kay was here by only the occasional kitchen sounds or slamming of the bathroom door.

That morning, I awoke. There was no one to comment on the minor drop in temperature the previous night that was “freezing.” The water flickered off and on. No one commented on a thwarted desire to shower or how she couldn’t focus or how odd it was that the men who arrived to weed the yard just hopped the fence and started working (but I did text The Boy about this). I wasn’t expected to react to the lack of bananas at the secret pulperia or expend energy on matters I didn’t care about. Ahhhh, relaxation. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, made and ate brownies, typed and thought and typed and thought on The Machine, researched end of year travel plans (swimming with sea turtles!), ate brownies, watched a movie, and discovered new music, including Mexican alternative pop. My only interactions were at an end-of-year dinner at Miss G’s house with the other volunteers and the Honduran teachers, the highlights of which were discussion of a volunteer’s 18 intestinal parasites and scheduling a future date with Kay to see the new Avengers. I wonder if I have parasites.

The pleasure of solitude comes from having control over my internal environment, interactions, and choices, to the maximum extent possible. It means cooking dinner uninterrupted, farting loudly when required, paging through a book for hours, and leaving the vocal cords and the Spoken Word Generation Neural Network (SWoGNN, pronounced “swhoa-gen”) unexercised. I can give everything I have to my own interests. The alternative is just too tiring, especially within a group of people whose needs, ideas, or modes of expression rarely coincide with my own. I’m unsure how to respond and resent that my interpretation of social convention requires that I do so for the sake of politeness. Some days I just grunt noncommittally.

Aside from my living situation, I get the impression that desire for solitude is not understood here. The room Vee and I share initially had three twin beds and we briefly had a third roommate, which for us was a bit much. But some families live in homes smaller than this room. Multiple generations live together. Families are large. Solitude requires space, which is a luxury, so the need might be somewhat culturally developed.

Being shy and self-concious, in addition to introverted, contributes to my frequent yearning for all extra people to be gone. These qualities, unfortunately, interfere with my ability to follow some Honduran customs. When entering a room, even if people are having a conversation or you’re late for a meeting, it is proper to say “Excuse me” or “Hello” or “Good afternoon,” to call attention to yourself beyond the physical interruption. If you pass by someone eating, even if it’s a stranger, it is proper to offer a “Buen provecho.” These courtesies are beyond me in any language. They require me to break the fourth wall and call attention to myself, assume that another cares to interact with me and cares about my existence, increase the risk that the person with whom I interact will want more, and risk rejection. My awkwardness has lead to unintended rudeness before. As a child, when I left a friend’s house I wouldn’t say “goodbye” to the family for the reasons listed above. So some families didn’t like me. I still have this problem, even with my family.

This seems to be a very outward and social culture: what happens to introverts and shy ones? Activities require so much more assertiveness and personal interaction here. To buy almost anything I have to tell the vendor what I want rather than grabbing it myself. Replacing the gas tank requires a visit, sometimes multiple, to the Tropigas shop. People don’t line up but push to the front. There are no street signs, so finding a new someone or something entails help from someone else. It all requires people, whereas I love the impersonality of the internet. The language barrier here makes all of this so much more challenging of course, but, even at home, I shy away from small stores, where the attention of the clerk is unavoidable.

The roommate will return Sunday, then it’s back to the stress of unwillingly lending brain space to another, but it won’t be long now before I’m back home, sharing my space willingly with my partner and a little less willingly with our three cats. And when even that is too much, retreating to my room for some quiet time.

Shake your ta tas,

theresa

P.S. Today’s picture is of the winning art project from the Earth Day competition. The lid removes so you can store tiny trinkets inside or your false teeth.

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Cats!

Hagfish don’t speak Spanish

Last week’s post cancelled due to ignorance. It was something on the theme of the temporality of so much here and poverty, then I realized that nearly all I observed here could apply to poverty in the US, which lead me to wonder what, if anything, was different and what should my role be in that. I’m here trying to make a small change, why do I not do that in my home country? It all became too complicated for a weekend and I didn’t feel qualified on the topic. So the post remains in the draft box.

Today’s thoughts:

Five months in, how’s my Spanish coming along? I was so proud of my first efforts, my first fuck-ups. Full of hope and energy, I valiantly struggled to push aside the language barrier and exchange ideas with my newfound friends. No, not really. That’s how my ideal self envisioned the events, but there haven’t been many friends and the barrier falls over. My Spanish sputters along in the same old way. I teach English and live with English speakers. I use Spanish to communicate to the principal that I’m borrowing his calculator and ask if I’m really supposed to give the 9th graders extra points for the museum trip, offer one of the school cleaners a piece of cake, and request a pound of green beans at the market. I’ve learned the words for cash (effectivo), come in/move by (pase), and sloth (peresozo, the same as lazy). Flustered, I often mix up pensar (to think) and querer (to like), despite having known them for years. A month ago, when I was invited to one of my favorite homes with a fellow volunteer—a local favorite who became fluent in a year—I was reduced to observer, straining to understand their conversation for, no exaggeration, hours. Meanwhile, Vee travels in Guatemala for two weeks and returns confident and willing to barge in with broken Spanish at any opportunity.

Maybe language learning is for extroverts. More accurately, language learning is for people who are able to make small talk or say nothing, really, just for the sake of talking. It’s also for people who have confidence that others will want to talk to them. None of these are me. At a recent birthday party four of us attended, I was seated with two friends of the family, one of whom was the mother of a student. I would have enjoyed getting to know her, but it’s difficult enough to bridge that gap in English without self-awareness-reducing chemical aid like caffeine or alcohol, much less in a language I barely speak and when I’m unsure of culturally acceptable topics; and then my style of semi-intense probing might not be appropriate for a party. I’m more into the What makes you tick? conversation and less This music makes me want to dance, OMG this goofy thing happened to me yesterday you have to listen to it, Isn’t it funny how much the kids are obsessed with their phones? To each their own, I just can’t do it. If I were engaged by someone else, I would try, bravely, strongly, but it wouldn’t go very far because we’d reach the limits of my abilities or the topics I can ask questions for quickly. And generally the families assume we don’t speak Spanish, so they don’t try to engage.

When I chose to work with this school, I was afraid that this lack of learning would happen since I would be living with volunteers rather than a family, but I wanted the proximity and support of other teachers. The alternative was life with a family but possibly too rowdy for my sanity and with not as much support. There wasn’t an ideal situation, and I chose the one that would better promote teaching success rather than language learning success.

This is all a terrible way of looking at language learning and myself. I’m just disappointed that I’m this socially awkward hagfish that resists evolution, that I’m not someone else, someone who believes that she is worth talking to, even in another language, and disappointed that I can’t kick my ass hard enough to…to what? find little funny things to say? find anything to say? I’m rather negative about all of this, especially when I see how quickly my roommate is progressing, due to her newfound friends. Maybe I need longer calves.

Okay, I need to believe in the lights ahead. I do have a conversation partner at school I should utilize more. As far as topics of conversation go, I can always ask her how to navigate the cultural waters that divide us and appropriate party conversation. I could also accept my status as a perennially awkward seafloor-dwelling scavenger. We all have a part to play.

Yours in goof,

theresa

P.S. The cats at our school understand that it’s not what you say but how much sun and playtime you enjoy that really matters.