So this girl, Marlene Castillo, and I are becoming famous for our escapades. At least in my heart, thanks to her big one. I stay in Marlene’s compound-like home when I visit Matagalpa, a city in the mountainous tropics of Nicaragua.
When we are together the laughs are free-flowing. These days I understand most of what’s going on. For instance I could throw in a word or two when we talked local politics with the retired Texan who showed up via Airbnb speaking near-perfect Spanish. He even had enough faith that he coached me about use of the subjunctive tense. Ha! I’m still trying to use the correct past and future tenses without slowing down the conversation too much. And my vocabulary will always be developing. By now I know one word for most things…which reminds me that there are several for purple. I’m grateful Marlene used the right one the other day at breakfast.
Every morning she makes a hot breakfast and serves it promptly at 7 before my Spanish lessons at Colibrí commence. Most family members were already on their way on this particular morning. So she sat down at the table to eat and chat with me. Joaquin, her quiet husband, also joined us for the first time ever. Don’t get me wrong. I like Joaquin a lot. He reminds me of Rob. He is a capable provider, a builder and professional driver. While I could never translate it, I get his dry wit. Marlene has perfected the clarity of her speech plus the use of her hands and acting acumen to make communication possible with even the most elementary Spanish speaker. But Joaquin, like most Maltagalpinos, drops the s’s at the end of words and relies on his eyebrows and lips to tell a lot of the story.
So when he started speaking that morning I perked up. I didn’t want to miss a bit of his tale. Between the two of them they began telling me about work he does with Marlene’s cousin Janet in the nearby rural communities. The story centered around a new-to-me verb—barner, or was it barnir?—and its first person present conjugation. As sometimes happens Marlene was translating my Spanish into words that other Spanish speakers, in this case Joaquin, could understand. Still we were stuck.
Finally Marlene looked squarely at me and used two cognates out of the three words she articulated to describe things as simply as possible. Bless God for cognates—the 20,000 words that are similar in several languages including English and Spanish. When read they are easy to translate. When pronounced, not so much. Still the three words were: Grande (a Spanish 101 word which means Big…Marlene held her arms wide though just in case my brain was still a blank vacuum), Violeta (thank God this was the choice she used for purple instead of morado or lila or even púrpura because the others may not have made it through my haze) and then televisión (and you all know what that means.)
Bravo! Ka-rum-ba! They were talking about BARNEY, for God’s sake. No wonder they continued to give me a chance to figure it out. I work with little kids after all. I had raised a couple of my own in the shadow of this jolly purple being and they were telling me that sometimes Joaquin dressed up as Barney to teach the kids when his NGO visited the countryside. My God, did we laugh…until my sides ached. Voy a reír (I’m going to laugh.)
I think this might be a story I’m supposed to keep under my hat for some reason. I mentioned it to Janet a couple days later when we were all together for Matagalpa’s anniversary celebration (that’s a story in itself). Given the way eyebrows flew and lips curled when I started into it, I decided to message Marlene before posting.
She, and Joaquin too, gave me permission to share this tale. I am still not certain why there might be any hesitation. It could be the Santa Claus phenomena…when someone is dressed in a great costume they become the character and that’s all there is to it. No one has permission to mess with the fantasy life of children. Anyway, that’s the way it is with my Spanish…I miss the details and have to rely on my read of body language and basic intuition a lot. Luckily over the years I’ve come to trust both of these ways of knowing in addition to what the words tell me.
And some tales just beg to be told, especially when the joke is on me, the teller, or the listener as it were. After all, in our parts we never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Who’d want to do something silly like that?