It’s like being a child. Back to square one. Frustrating and marvellous. In some ways not being able to talk to people is a blessing. You rely on other things, become better at reading body language, smile more, listen harder. Maybe it’s more about understanding the other, than getting your own message across. I cannot remember the time when I could not talk, and this is like being pulled back into my babyhood, not to a quiet world, but a world of mystery and at most times total incomprehension. I’m remembering that it’s possible to communicate without talking.
But the effort it requires is immense. Every weekday afternoon, we walk across the Plaza Pedro de Anzares in front of La Recoleta and up the hill to Aida’s house for two hours of Spanish. When I learned to talk the first time, it was a natural process, an evolution. It just happened. I didn’t have to study grammar, irregular verbs and tenses. I wasn’t so hard on myself then or maybe it’s just that I can’t remember how I felt or what I thought. Now, it seems like it will never happen. And after six weeks of study, impatience is creeping in. I berate myself wondering why I’m not better. And I wish I could remember that childhood softness, and trust that it will come – like it did the first time.
Lolita, Aida’s green-and-yellow parrot, calls out when we walk in. She is also a creature of few words – one to be exact, her own name. But she has the most beautiful laugh, and she laughs often. Ricky, the Dalmatian dog, is a poor old creature wandering up and down the patio, unable to stand still. When he does, his back legs sink under him, until he’s squatting rather than standing, and then he paces again. Our lessons are filled with laughter, but we can’t take more than two hours. By 4.30 in the afternoon we’re good for nothing. We revive sufficiently to watch ‘Por Siempre Mi Amor’ in the early evening and wonder why no one can spot the villain of the piece – even we can, and we understand very little. Our joy at being able to pick out a couple of words or the odd phrase is immense. Back to that childlike state of wonder.
And while all this is happening, life goes on around us. One Saturday morning we chanced upon a ‘local fiesta’. That was all the information I could glean from a reporter waiting outside the cathedral. It was the women’s clothes that caught my attention. Bulging skirts, wrapped around numerous petticoats, making the women seem as wide as they were tall. Elaborate embroidered Spanish-style fringed shawls. Bowler and Derby hats. Jewels. Beribboned plaits. And the colours. Electric blues, lime greens, tangerine, apricot, rose and mauve. After a church service, men, women and children drifted outside, stood chatting in little knots and started drinking beer. A couple of beggars weaved their way through the throng, palm outstretched. The band struck up. A huge whole noise, that forced it’s way into my body and filled me up, exiting through the smile it forced onto my face. The women began to sway, the movement at first so small it was almost no movement at all. It became larger and rounder, and as they wheeled their skirts flared, revealing lace petticoats which matched their outer clothes beautifully. They danced around the plaza, as traffic horns tooted, and by-standers cheered. Men brought up the rear, their movements less controlled, wilder. It was sheer joy.
Two months learning Spanish in Sucre – hard work, and fantastic fun.