I HAVE a jumble of Spanish in my head and it feels worse every time I try to speak it.
“Porque, tengo, hace, pasado, fui, estuvo.”
I feel like a bit of a joke at my place of work and everywhere else around me when I do not understand words, or cannot repeat them.
“Cuanto, mejor, vivo, Quiza, talvez.”
It has been a busy week at work, and I had a two hour Spanish lesson just before a first date. I was frazzled and wondering how I was going to have the energy to make a good impression.
I am not so good with dates. Especially first dates. And especially in this country. But I had to pull myself together. I took a taxi so I could relax a little about not being late, and I waited at the Plaza De Armas underneath a giant and glorious statue.
And as I sat waiting for my date in my flannie shirt (which I wear when I want to make an impression), I saw a group dressed as clowns or with red noses. And one young man in the group locked eyes with me. He pointed at me and suddenly the group had a target. They had a gringo. They walked up to me with loud musical instruments and they spoke to me. And I understood them. And even if I didn’t they spoke clear English for me to fall back on.
And every time I said something to them, especially in Spanish, it was like it was the most exciting thing in the world to them. A bunch of clowns were making me feel special.
“Chris!” I said. And they all exclaimed as if it was an exotic name – which here in Peru it seems to be.
“De Donde Eres?” (Where are you from?)
“Yo Soy Australian (I am Australian).” And the clowns exclaimed again as if I had just announced I was a native of Antarctica.
“Would you like to buy a chocolate?” they asked, and it was only a sol so of course I wanted to. They were just at the point of asking me when my birthday was, when my date arrived.
“Mi compleanos es ocho Noviembre,” I said, but I don’t know if I said that right (actually, I had the number after the month the first time but they kindly corrected me).
“Feliz compleanos!” they said, and burst into excited applause as my date sat next to me with a smile to kiss me on the cheek. And then they sang me a happy birthday even though I turn 29 in eight months.
And then after the song they all took turns giving me hugs. And then when they all hugged me, they started again. I had three hugs from some of them by the time they went away.
And somehow this was the perfect way to meet someone new. The tension had broken before we had even spoke, under the shadow of a giant statue in the middle of a Peruvian square with a bunch of musical clowns wishing me a happy birthday – even though it wasn’t my birthday.