Friday, October 13, 2006

Salvation, Thy names are Aurora and Paola

Before we came to Lima, we were told by some other Foreign Service folks who had previously been posted to Peru that we would definitely need to hire a maid (empleada) when we arrived because our floors would need to be swept and mopped every day. At the time I thought this was utterly ridiculous, but after weeks of being in Lima I have discovered that this is in fact the reality. Lima has a very curious climate. Though situated on the eastern coast of the Pacific ocean and near enough to the equator that the temperature is fairly mild year-round, because of the Humboldt Current that runs south to north and the weather that drifts down from the Andes Mountains in the opposite direction there is a perpetual mist in the air but, it NEVER rains. The mist keeps the air very humid and helps to maintain the mostly tropical climate, but the lack of rain means that there is a fair amount of dust in the air that apparently has nowhere to go but my floors -- especially the aforementioned white kitchen floor. After several weeks of daily hands and knees cleaning, we decided that the advice we were given was on the level and subsequently hired our own empleada, Aurora.

At first, it was a little odd having another person living in the house (she has a room and bathroom off the kitchen and stays with us Monday through Friday). However, we quickly got used to the dinners, the laundry being washed, folded and put away, never washing dishes, and most especially, the end of scrubbing the kitchen floor. Aurora speaks almost no English, although arguably more English than I speak Spanish so during the day with Kenny at work and my using to get my point across you can imagine that our days are fairly quiet. Mostly I just smile, nod and say "Si" a lot. Who knows what I am agreeing to, but so far things are working well. She is very thorough and while not hired to watch Caleb, she loves him and is always happy to play with him or watch him if I need to run errands or when I have Spanish classes. She likes to cook and we have had some very good typical Peruvian dishes since she started with us. She keeps flipping through the one cookbook I brought with us, but since she can't speak/read English it is not much use to her. So, we have ordered some cookbooks in Spanish so she and I can experiment. She has only been with us a little while, but already we have gotten used to her and she is quickly becoming part of the family.

Caleb and Aurora in the entryway of the house

Which brings me to my other savior, Paola, the Spanish teacher. Shockingly enough, my one year of high school Spanish has not made me fluent. Frankly, at this point, fluency is not the goal, just being able to do more than point and make odd, not even English, sounds would be great. I feel like a deaf mute most of the time especially since the only person who really understands me is Caleb and let's be honest, how much does an 8 month old really grasp of language anyway? Luckily, we now have the Internet and Cable so I can at least get some news and television in English (the first few days without these were TORTURE!).

Paola the linguist

Paola is a linguist by education and speaks Spanish, French, English and has studied German and Italian. She teaches at the Catholic University of Lima and works freelance as a Spanish teacher. She comes to the house every day for 2 hours and says my Spanish is improving. And, I think she is right. I still feel like a mute, but at least now I can sort of understand what people are saying to me...not always...still a fair amount of smiling and nodding going on, but things are definitely better. The worst part of it is that without the language, I have given up a lot of my independence and while I am slowly regaining it, I am impatient and tired of having to defer to Kenny on everything. To his credit, he is very good at talking "for me" but, well, it goes without saying that I prefer to talk for myself. But, I am committed to learning the language and with Paola's help I am making great strides.


Christian said...

Your experiences--la empleada, la casa lujosa, etc.--are very similar to those of my sister who moved to El Salvador, where her husband works en la embajada. (Excepto que ella ya podía hablar español.) Sounds like it's a great experience--and I'll make sure Michelle reads these posts as you blaze a trail ahead of us on how to manage all these changes on the off-chance that we move to México next year!

Buena suerte!

Lilita said...

Even with 4 years of Spanish and MTC training, my first few months also consisted of lots of smiling and nodding and si-ing. It gets better, slowly. And I discovered that in fact, even though it seems so culturally backward and lame, adding o or a to the end of many English words led me to stumble onto unexpected cognates that helped immensely.

May the force be with you!

robin marie said...

it sounds like you are doing buenissimo!!! the spanish will come but in the meantime i love the mental image of your smiles and si's! that's great.


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