When I was in high school (way back in the last century), kids planning to go to college were encouraged to take two years of a foreign language. I took Spanish my junior and senior years.

In college, I think I took four semesters of Spanish, although I can only recall two of my instructors, a woman with blond curly hair and a mean old lady from Cuba.

I got As and Bs in my Spanish classes, mostly because I was able to learn the grammar and do well on tests. I hated speaking out loud in class. My accent was horrible, and my brain was terribly slow at figuring out what I wanted to say, remembering the correct words, conjugating the verbs, and getting the articles right. It was frustrating to know three-year-old kids in Mexico City and Madrid spoke better Spanish than I did.

Many years later, when I was in my mid-30s, I attended free Spanish classes taught by an American university student who was fluent in the language and had been to Latin America several times. In a room full of Midwesterners in their 20s who’d never learned a single word of Spanish, I was the star pupil, but my accent was still horrible and my slow brain kept my speech halting.

I hadn’t studied Spanish in years when I met Miz T, an American woman who spoke English as her native tongue, but had been studying and speaking Spanish for several decades. The next summer, Miz T and I befriended two Guatemalan sisters. The sisters spoke limited English (which was better than my limited Spanish), but when I wanted to communicate something complicated to either of them, I had to get Miz T to translate for me. I practiced my limited Spanish with Miz T and the Guatemalan sisters, but I made mistakes all the time.

One time I tried to tell one of the sisters that I had Miz T’s birthday card for her to sign. Instead of saying tengo la tarjecta, (I have the card), I told her that she had the card (tiene la tarjeta). Actually, I told her she had la carta, which is a playing card. She must have been really confused.

Yo quiero hablar español con mi amigas de Guatemala.

(I want to speak Spanish with my girlfriends from Guatemala.)

When I migrated to warmer lands last winter, Miz T let me take some of her Spanish lesson CDs. Each lesson only lasts half an hour. At first I diligently did a lesson every day. I had a lot of free time, and it was easy to keep up. Then I went to the city, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, back to the city. I got busy working and playing, and my Spanish lessons were the first (self-imposed) obligation I let slip away.

When I got out to the woods, I barely thought about studying Spanish. I had nowhere to plug in my laptop, so I didn’t use it to do my lessons. I tried to write a letter in Spanish to Miz T and the sisters, but my vocabulary was lacking. I didn’t know important words like trees (arboles), mountain (montaña), or chipmunk (ardilla). One day I bought a small Spanish-English dictionary for ten cents at a thrift store, and I was back on the Spanish train, doing my lessons everyday (for at least a week).

One morning when I emerged from my van, I found campers who’d arrived in the night. As I spoke with them, I realized English was not their native (or primary) language. They were Spanish speakers.

When I explained the fees to one guy ($20 per night for camping, $7 per night for the extra vehicle), he looked confused. I slowed down and explained again, then decided to use a little of my Spanish language knowledge. I meant to ask Entiende? (Do you understand?). I realized ten minutes later that I’d asked Entiendo? (Do I understand?) I bet the camper was thinking Espero que entiende, gringa! (I hope you understand, white lady!)

Perdon. Necesito estudiar español ahora.

(Excuse me. I need to study Spanish now.)

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About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now I have a little travel trailer parked in a small RV park in a small desert town. I also have a minivan to travel in. When it gets too hot for me in my desert, I get in my minivan and move up in elevation to find cooler temperatures or I house sit in town in a place with air conditioning I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

2 Responses »

  1. One time I was working at a school and tried unsuccessfully to communicate with a group of parents who spoke only Spanish. I tried to talk to them with my limited French, and we all had a little laugh! Then to show them how little Spanish I know, I said a couple of random vocabulary words I’d picked up from living in a place w/ a high Spanish speaking population. No one laughed, but there were some confused faces. Later when I told a bilingual teacher about it, I found out I had essentially pointed toward the classroom and said, “The children are homosexuals!”

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