Saturday, September 13, 2014

Snippets of my Thought Process: Spelling and Self Consciousness

Allison Draper

We are driving from La Selva to Kekoldi, going down the east coast through Limón. I'm sitting in a normal yoga teacher-esque position on the bus, as per usual. My hips are on the edge of my seat with my legs straight up the back of the seat in front of me, my feet visible from the front of the bus. I picture the driver looking in his rearview mirror and shaking his head. I'm beginning to feel a bit queasy, even though I took a Dramamine – which should speak for the bumpiness of the bus ride.
 A sketchy bathroom stop, 93 turns, and three close motion sickness calls later, and we have arrived at the trailhead to Kekoldi. The iguanas are easier to listen to than Sebastian's (our guide/host) quick Spanish. As he wizzes in one ear and out the other, I hear my mind slowly spelling as I tilt my head in unison with an iguana I have in an eye lock: B-O-S-Q-U-E. A twist of my head to the right, following my iguana partner: P-O-B-L-A-C-I-Ó-N.
I am an unreasonably bad speller. My theory is that my brain turns to spelling when my mind goes blank in an effort to make up for the fact that my hand is constantly abusing my intelligence. I-N-T-E-L-I-G-E-N-C-I-A. My brain starts out just monotone spelling, then it speeds up, then it's with a tone or accent, then it's a song. P-E-R-E-Z-O-S-O. We see a sloth on the hike up to Kekoldi. "Esperemos un perezoso! La speoodedo la de dada blegah…" Spanish too fast for me to understand. V-A-M-O-S.
I'm swinging in a hammock listening to an hour and a half lecture on the history of Kekoldi, in Spanish. Torturous. Yes, our professor is translating every few minutes to English, but I know I could understand the Spanish. Somewhat. I took three semesters of Spanish before coming to Costa Rica. I should be better than this. It's one of my biggest insecurities. I listen enviously whenever we go into the community and my classmates effortlessly communicate with the locals. I know the words, I know the conjugations, but I just can't bring myself to open my mouth. The confidence booster of only understanding 60% of this Spanish lecture isn't helping either.  
Now we are riding in a rusty bus into an indigenous Bribri community. I forgot to take Dramamine. Ugh. I stick my head out the window in an attempt to get some fresh air but I get a mouthful of dust instead. At least the landscape is breathtaking. My eyes widen to take in as much of the rolling hills and tropical plants as they can before the bus jiggles around the next corner. A-U-T-O-B-Ú-S.
This community is everything I could have imagined. I always rambled at home about how fascinated I was by indigenous medicine and cultural practices, and now I'm listening to a list of plant uses in the forest with the tribe Shamans. There is no room for spelling right now. I'm too busy practicing questions in Spanish to ask the leaders. "Qué… I mean, Cuál… I, um…" P-U-E-D-O. This is all I have ever dreamt about. But I freeze. L-L-U-V-I-A.
I run out of the clearing behind the rest of my classmates to escape the Costa Rican downpour. I duck under the nearest awning I can find. A little girl stands to the right of me. What do I have to lose? "Está lloviendo mucho, ¿no?" She furrows her eyebrows but says nothing. Our eyes lock and she mimics my head tilt to the left. She doesn't speak Spanish. She sticks her hand into the rain, laughs, and looks back at me. She doesn't need words to communicate those emotions. P-O-D-R-É. Our eyes lock again; I smile, nod my head with a smile, and run back into the rain towards the main hut.
I see the Shamans standing to the left of a large rectangular table, their Bribri translator to their right. I take a deep breath, walk up to the translator, open my mouth and speak. 

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