"In January, Brad Pitt asked me for a date, but I had to turn him down because I was busy preparing to host the Obama's for dinner" I told my classmates during an activity to practice past tense.
"Really? How did you meet him?" they asked, awed and incredulous. Maybe they hadn't understood our teacher's instructions to make up stories (lie) to make the activity more fun. I'd prepared a whole year of whoppers for their entertainment, including serving macaroni and cheese to the Obamas and coming down with Ebola when I traveled to Africa with Bill Gates.
Since Spanish has two different past tenses that I often mix up, I definitely need to practice talking about the past, and liked doing it in such a fun way!
This week, I also learned lots of interesting ways you can talk about death in Spanish, similar to the way English-speakers will say that someone "kicked the bucket" or "bought the farm". In Spanish, people "stretch their legs", "hang up their gloves", "get serious", "get cold", or "watch the grass grow from below" when they die.
If you want to say that someone "calls the shots", you say that they "take the frying pan by the handle" (tomar la sartén por el mango).
Thursday was the last day of class for most of my classmates from a Florida study-abroad program, so the institute had a little graduation ceremony for them. We had a lot of fun together this week, so I'm going to miss them. Here's a little photo of some of the professors at the institute. Maria Elena (who taught most of my morning classes so far) is on the far right. Even though she was very sick and had lost her voice that day, she came to school to bid farewell to my classmates.
Friday, Carlos substituted for Maria Elena so she could rest, and in addition to teaching us the word for "redneck" (maicero, from the word for corn), he taught us why different Spanish-speaking countries have so many variations in their use of the language. For example, people in neighboring Panama speak very differently than do people in Costa Rica--their Spanish is more Carribean, due to the historical divisions of the Spanish empire. Places that are more isolated (like Costa Rica was) still use some older forms of Spanish that were just going out of style in Spain at the time of the conquistadors came to the New World, but lived on in the colonies they founded (Costa Rica uses "vos" for the informal singular you, which hasn't been used in Spain for centuries, I understand).
The same thing happens with English...I told my class about the time I visited England and asked for "silverware" at a department store cafeteria. They didn't understand me and led me to the section of the store where I could buy silver platters and silver mugs; when I said I needed a knife, fork, and spoon so I could eat the lunch I'd just purchased, they said "Oh! You want cutlery!" Carlos was very aware of regional differences in English, talking about Southerner's use of "ya'll" and "fixin' to", and then mentioned that he read an English book that used the words "camp" and "campy" as adjectives, asking us what those meant. I didn't know and so we googled it.
Tatiana was my tutor in the afternoons this week, and had been raised by an activist father who had family in Argentina. We talked about the Argentine military government who killed 30,000 people there in the 70's and 80's. She lent me a movie about how about 600 babies were born to activist women in captivity, and how the government killed the mothers after the birth and put the kids up for adoption. We talked about several social issues that were very sad and hard topics. Occasionally she would ask me "Do you understand me?" and I did, but often just didn't know how to respond to some of the very difficult, sad topics we discussed. I wouldn't have been able to respond very well in English either. I learned lots of new vocabulary from her, which I'm sure will be helpful to me as I work here.
One of the highlights of the week was visiting the Children's Museum on one of the school's cultural activities. I was the only student who wanted to go on the organized tour, which worked out just fine as Professor Dennis and I had fun playing with the children's games together (electrocuting ourselves by turning a crank, learning about the Costa Rican astronaut who lived at the International Space Station, checking out the automated dinosaurs or the earthquake simulator).
Here's Dennis with a snake...he keeps a pet boa constrictor at his house because it catches mice.
Here I am playing with kids in the room with the slanted floor
The Children's museum is in a building that was formerly a prison, and looks like a castle.
Dennis and I walked about 7 blocks through a very rough neighborhood to get there (he called it a "zona roja"--red zone) where we saw policemen confronting people who were sleeping on the streets. It was a different side of Costa Rica than what I'd seen before...it had a lot of trash on the streets and looked like many drug addicts lived there. One of them had a big metal bar attached to the outside of his lower leg...just looking at it was painful.
As we walked towards my bus stop, I picked up some trash blowing in the street, thinking I'd be able to find a trash can nearby. After carrying it around for 15 minutes, I realized it wasn't likely I'd find one. Dennis finally just put the trash and put it in his bag. (Thanks Dennis! And thanks U.S., for having lots of public trash cans!)
We happened to walk past a famous church that Dennis' ancestors had donated the land for, and so he took me inside to see a statue of the child Jesus, who many people believe worked a miracle back in the 1860's by stopping a cholera plague that killed 10% of the population. As we stood chatting just outside the Church, a beggar man whose territory includes the church steps startled me by touching my hand to get my attention to request "limnosas" (alms). I don't like to reward begging in the street, and so didn't give him anything. (I need to do like my parents have done in Salt Lake--make a donation to organizations that help the homeless and then give a card with the contact information of these organizations to the beggars they encounter).
"You look really gringa" Dennis told me "so if you want to come here on your own, you need to take a taxi all the way to the museum and not walk through the streets." I will definitely follow his advice!