I had been traveling alone through South America for three weeks when I awoke the morning of my 20-hour bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, to Salta, Argentina, with a throbbing headache and transported myself to the bus stop more slowly than my brain deciphers long division.
I toiled to board the bus and descended in to my seat, my head stationary against the hard cushions. I closed my eyes. Before I could sigh, the woman in the seat next to me leaned forward and introduced herself to me as ‘Nellie.’ I slit one eye open, savoring the one shut eye’s exhilaration. Nellie’s thirty-four-year-old (I know this because she later showed me her passport) face, clad in glasses and a schoolgirl smile, was five inches from mine. I reluctantly lugged my other eye open, smiled, and introduced myself.
We exchanged pleasantries, and then the questioning commenced with the rapidity of a stereotypical California teenage girl’s idioms. After covering where I was from (San Francisco), how old I was, whether I had a husband, how many children I had, how many siblings I had, their names, ages, and what they did for a living, why I no longer lived with my parents, and what my full name was, the following questions ensued:
“What you doing?” she asked me.
“Oh, I’m just traveling.”
“No, what, what you do-ing? What you do?”
“Oh, I guess I’m technically in real estate,” I said with a smile. I closed my eyes.
“What real estate?” she inquired.
I explained real estate, informed her that I was very sorry, but felt like I was dying because I was so tired, and relinquished my eyes to their natural and satisfied state: closed. Had I felt like a normal human being, I might have been physically capable of participating in conversation. Today, I felt as alive as a flamingo without legs or wings. After my dying statement, Nellie subsequently sang ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, the alphabet, and some clapping song that I vaguely recollected from my distant childhood. I couldn’t wholly recall the song because with each crashing clap my brain threatened to collapse.
“I a English teacher in Peru. I teach English!” she explained with continued applause. How anyone who couldn’t construct a simple sentence properly was an English teacher made as much sense to me as OJ Simpson being declared “Not guilty.” However, I do not judge, I just question. By this time my Spanish knowledge had swelled to three sentences and 23 words. I wasn’t attempting to teach Spanish, of course. But I do live in California, with a more populous Latin contingent than Caucasian. Thus, one would think I would have picked up on a few words in my life.