Zuetana, the hotel we’re staying in, is built around a tiled courtyard so the voices in the common area downstairs make their way into the rooms upstairs. One morning, I was watching Miguel sleep in our room and I heard Eliana’s unbelievably high voice wind its way up through the courtyard. She was explaining to someone that she doesn’t really speak Spanish. When that someone offered encouraging words about how she would learn, especially now that she’ll be in Colombia for a while, she immediately said “no, I don’t need to because my mommy speaks Spanish.” Once I stopped chuckling I had to admit to myself that I hold a similar view. Someone recently told us (it was probably Steve or Carol as they are basically our live-in tour guides) that the percentage of people in Colombia who speak English as a second language is amongst the smallest in Latin America. This is borne out pretty much every day when I struggle to order in a restaurant, ask an employee of an electronics store if they carry camera straps, or ask one of the hotel workers to please use bleach-free soap while washing our clothes. It’s embarrassing to admit how little Spanish I’ve managed to absorb in the 12 years that Megan has been in my life and how badly I charade given how many years of high school and college I spent on stage. And yet, despite this very real shortcoming, I continue to be quite confident in all things computer. And so when the internet went down in our hotel (as it does about every 15 minutes) Megan encouraged me to go down to the office and see what I could do. So after the language-free, tried and true technique of powering off and on the router didn’t seem to work, I plowed right into a series of Spanish-language troubleshooting screens which basically resulted in me inadvertently rebooting the machine and then being unable to log back in because I and the hotel worker on duty did not have the password.
Eliana and I are grateful for Megan in ways that are, to be honest, too numerous to mention. And since landing in Bogotá, her ability to speak so effortlessly with everyone we encounter allows us a certain amount of warmth and acceptance that we surely would not enjoy if left solely to my mysterious and sometimes alarming pantomime. So I’m trying to be more deliberate about learning Spanish and, just yesterday, I heard Eliana playing on a slide with 5-yr old Jhon and this time the words floating up through the courtyard were “abajo, Jhon, abajo.”