I missed my blogiversary :(

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And it’s a big one – 5 years! Half a decade of hard work to finally speak French, and to consistently write in English. But on Sunday I forgot all about it in the midst of a bunch of craziness.

Had I remembered my blogiversary on the correct day, I would have realized how perfect the timing was. On Sunday I returned to New York from South Jersey filled with renewed motivation to get back on the language horse. That’s because I spent the preceding week with my family and was amazed and inspired by how my seven year-old niece has picked up Spanish practically overnight.

When I left the United States for Senegal at the beginning of January, my niece was two days into the bilingual English-Spanish program at her new school. All her classmates had started the program a half-year earlier because their parents had signed their kids up at the end of the previous school year. But Hannah and her family moved into the school district over the summer, and by the time they tried to sign her up, the program was at capacity. My brother and sister-in-law put her on the wait list and she joined the English-only track in the meantime.

In December, Hannah got the news that a space had opened up and she could start the bilingual track in the new year. My brother told me not to mention it to Hannah before I left, because she wasn’t looking forward to leaving her new friends and starting all over again with yet another set of new classmates. I thought that was a small price to pay for becoming fluent in a second language at a young age, but of course a seven year-old (six at the time) wouldn’t share that sentiment.

Cut to three and a half months later. When I hung out with Hannah, I made sure not to bring up Spanish in case it was still a sensitive subject. Instead, it was she who randomly answered a question from her mom with a Spanish response. Thinking this was my opening, I asked her how Spanish was going. Because she is seven, she couldn’t give her parents (who were in the room) the satisfaction of thinking that she had come around to their point of view, so she insisted over and over again that she hated Spanish – in Spanish. “Why?” I asked. “Porque es un otro lenguaje,” she answered in a perfect accent. In the ten minutes of Spanish conversation that followed, I struggled to remember how to say the most basic words and phrases, and she answered flawlessly, effortlessly, mellifluously. I told her that I was both incredibly impressed and incredibly jealous of her Spanish abilities and she rolled her eyes.

Yes, Hannah, I know that feeling. When I was approximately seven my mom hired a Hebrew tutor to come to the house and give me lessons after school. I still remember it with the visceral responses I had then, of life-threatening boredom mixed with intense desperation to escape. I don’t know what happened with the tutoring – I’m pretty sure it didn’t last longer than a couple of months. Maybe I moped about it so much that my mom gave in and discontinued the lessons. Thirty years later, I would give at least one good finger to go back in time and sit through those stupid lessons no matter how mind-numbing they were.

So, even though Hannah was not in the least excited about her newfound Spanish, I could not have been more excited for her. Clearly, one of my biggest unfulfilled wishes in life is that I had been raised bilingual or at least schooled bilingually. I would have saved so much trouble and hard work that way, with a better result than what I’ve got now after years of struggle and effort: inconsistent proficiency rather than fluency in French, ridiculously grasping Spanish, and exceptionally faltering Hebrew. I’d know how it feels to have two different but equally accessible forms of expression at my disposal, to toggle between two different worlds with ease. I will never know what that’s like and it really bothers me.

But, just because I’ll never have two equally balanced fluent languages in my brain doesn’t mean I shouldn’t keep trying to learn other languages to the best of my ability. Without realizing it, my niece inspired me to get back to work. I am going to sign up for a Rosetta Stone subscription so that I can learn Spanish right along with her (or a few steps behind her, more likely).

When I started this blog five years ago my goals were to move to Senegal, learn to speak French fluently, and learn Spanish and Hebrew pretty well. I would say I’ve gotten about 50% there. On my fifth blogiversary (plus a few days), it feels appropriate to set a new goal for the next five years of this blog. Here it is: Go the remaining 50%. 💪

[The photo is a drawing that Hannah gave me last week. Apparently it is the cover to a blank book about the three little pigs; I think the point was that I was supposed to fill in the book. Because she is somehow a full-on Spanish speaker after three months of immersion, she wrote the title of the book in Spanish first, and then in English.]

things I’m looking forward to in NYC

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I am moving back to New York on Thursday and I’m excited to (re)start there with a bang: a social gathering, a party, and a protest all within the first weekend. But beyond that, I can’t say I’m enthused about heading back. In fact, I was in the city overnight last weekend and though I was very happy to hang out with friends, New York itself did nothing for me. I did not feel even a slight thrill to be back amongst the skyscrapers and yellow cabs and sidewalks overflowing with people. Just a resigned, “Alright, fine, let’s do this.”

So… clearly I need an attitude adjustment and to remind myself of what I have to look forward to in the city. Off the top of my head:

  • Being close to my friends and family and being able to squeeze my niece and nephew, who live an hour away.
  • Picking out books at Albertine, the lovely French bookstore, and at my favorite used bookstore in Prospect Heights.
  • Having fewer language-based misunderstandings than in Senegal or France.
  • Visiting the next exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute, which opens in May.
  • Storing my bike at my friend’s place in the Bronx so we can go on impromptu adventures together.
  • Having hundreds of movies to choose from in theaters, and not having to confirm that they’re not overdubbed in French.
  • Being eligible for the jobs I most want. (In Paris I did not even bother trying to break into the French documentary industry because I was too intimidated by my imperfect French.)
  • The ubiquity of clean and well-equipped public bathrooms – as well as private ones you can easily sneak into – so that you need never walk around with a full bladder or pay to pee.
  • The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, my soul mate institution.
  • Gluten-free pizza is relatively abundant.
  • There’s a volunteer oral history recording project I’m excited to get involved in.
  • I can become more deeply involved in the “Resistance,” as the expat Americans activist group I was part of in Paris calls it.
  • Weaving classes at Brooklyn Brainery (I decided I wanted to learn to weave while living two blocks from this studio and never went. Senegal re-inspired me, and I finally took a class last year in London and loved it.)
  • Driving my parents’ cars when I’m in the suburbs – it’s been way too long since I’ve been behind the wheel.
  • Picking back up where I left off with my Spanish learning and being able to practice with NYC residents.
  • Going back to New York as a French speaker and someone who, on a good day, can call myself bilingual.

I suppose that was somewhat refreshing…

I won’t bother listing what I’m not looking forward to – what’s the point of being negative about it?

My plans, or lack thereof

So… I’m leaving Dakar. Which I know sounds ridiculous coming just days after I posted a love letter to the city. I meant every word of it, and I’m sure I would fall even harder the longer I stayed. But sometimes you can’t be with the one you love. Continue reading

(get over the) hump day inspiration: Terry Pratchett edition

Terry_Pratchett_Travel_Quote.jpgI don’t actually need any hump day inspiration considering that I got back from vacation last night and did literally nothing at work today but hang out and hyperventilate/chatter about said vacation while extremely high on espresso and life.

I’ll share photos once I sift through all 1,500+ of them and find the gemmiest of the many, many gems… Because where I went, it was eye orgasms every which way you looked.

Hasta pronto, mis amigos! No puedo esperar para mostrar mis fotos del más magnífico vacaciones en la historia de vacaciones! (I’m still high on that coffee, fourteen hours later.)

what not to do when planning an international trip

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1. Buy your airline ticket.
2. Vaguely look into visas and decide you don’t need any for the countries you’re visiting.
3. Wait a month.
4. Two days before your trip, think to yourself, did I adequately check whether I need a visa for that one country?
5. Do a quick Google search.
6. Convince yourself a visa may be necessary even though the vast majority of the information online claims that you can get it in the airport… But there are those one or two sites that differ.
7. Panic.
8. Call the airline and attempt to ask in Spanish (yes, it had to be in Spanish) whether it is in fact possible to get the visa in the airport.
9. Further panic when the customer service guy wants to look up your ticket first, but can’t find it. (Yes, panic, even though when you click on a link in your ticket confirmation email, it takes you to a second confirmation page directly on the airline’s site. And even though the reasonable explanation for the confusion is that you can neither correctly spell your name in Spanish letters nor intelligibly articulate dates or times in Spanish numbers.)
10. Miraculously understand when the guy tells you he’s going to attempt to find someone who speaks English because the conversation will be too complicated otherwise.
11. Wait on hold for fifteen minutes, worried.
12. Call back when phone gets disconnected. Wait on hold another twenty five minutes.
13. Finally get on the line with someone who speaks English, and within the space of two minutes, confirm that your ticket is just fine and that you can get the visa in the airport before your flight, no problem.
14. Hang up the phone, and close ten Chrome tabs on which the same information was written, but which you chose to ignore because you court anxiety like it’s Vitamin C and you’ve got scurvy.

[Photo: JD Hancock]

I’m just loco like that

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The chapter we’re studying in my Spanish textbook is called “Ida y Vuelta,” and it’s travel-themed. Yesterday, we split into two groups for an in-class activity in which each group had to come up with a travel adventure plan to present to the other group. Details were to include where we’d go, what we’d do, how long we’d prepare for the trip, and how we’d finance it.

I sheepishly reported to my group that I have a real-life travel adventure plan I am hoping to put into action soon. When I told them what it was, it sounded so much like fantasy that I started passing it off as such to hide my embarrassment. “Primero, voy a ir al Senegal para practicar mi francés, y luego voy a ir al Argentina para seguir aprendiendo mi español, y voy a ir de un país al otro país por, erm… no sé… viajar alrededor los otros países del mundo, quizas?” Which, if I spoke proper Spanish, would translate to, “First I’m going to go to Senegal to practice my French and then I’m going to go to Argentina to continue learning Spanish, and I’m going to get from one country to the other by traveling around the world, maybe?”

We ended up fusing that plan with everyone else’s much more modest travel fantasies (tomar el sol en Florida, conducir por México, viajar a Praga para ver los museos) and decided we would finance our now wildly-untenable trip by working really hard in a restaurant for two months beforehand and selling our travel photos to National Geographic during our trip – which actually sounds much more plausible than the idea of me circumnavigating Africa in-between language immersion stints.

At one point while trying to explain the plan, my classmate asked the teacher, “Cómo se dice, ‘crazy'”?

I piped right up, “Loco!” Because if you harbor a dream as far-fetched as mine, you’re going to know that word in many languages.

[Photo: Fumigraphik]

setbacks

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Setback one: After spending day after day checking airfare alerts for the best deals (and there were many: $525 to Seoul, $400 to Hong Kong, $330 to Paris, $275 to Martinique), I ended up buying two decidedly non-deal tickets to the two places I wanted to go to most: Mexico City and, erm, somewhere else nearby.

I leave next Thursday. Last Wednesday, I ran too far in my newish running shoes that just don’t fit very well, and I’ve been increasingly hobbled by my big toe since then. While the day after the run it merely ached, today it is so bad that I’m limping around wondering if I might have somehow broken my toe simply by running on it.

I had planned to spend the entirety of my vacation wandering aimlessly around the streets of the cities I’m visiting, as is my wont, but now I’ll be lucky if I can even step into and out of the taxis and buses I will be relying upon to haul me around. Panicked! Calling a doctor tomorrow…

Setback two: It’s time to register for my next semester of Spanish at work. In order to do that, I need to submit an updated letter from HR saying that I’m expected to be contracted through the end of the course. Problem is, in the pursuit of this letter I found out that my contract will almost certainly not be extended past December 31.

I’ve been at this job long enough to know that anything is possible, including that my contract will be miraculously renewed month by month until April 19, at which point I’ll have filled the post for the full year that it is allowed to be held by a temp. Even if that happens though, what’s fairly certain is that I won’t be able to take a free Spanish class next semester.

Nadie va a escribime la carta, y sin lo [la?? ella??], no puedo tomar el clase. I wrote that without the help of Google Translate! This class has taught me so much, it’s the highlight of my Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I’m so, so sad that I won’t be able to continue with it in the new year.