Monday, October 31, 2011

I'm Average

I think there is nothing worse in life than being average. That is actually my biggest fear - well, right alongside the crocodiles under my bed finally eating my toes, and the guy sitting in the corner of the living room walking towards me. There are (thank god) no monsters in my closet.

No, but seriously: I am terrified of being average! I think it is terrible to get lost in the masses. Especially now that the masses have reached 7 BILLION (and according to the BBC World Citizen Counter I am number four billion six hundred ninety-seven million six hundred and one thousand eight hundred twenty). I mean, we have got to find a way to stand out. But then again, if all us, if all seven billion of us try to stand out, we will, ironically, not. So I guess some, the majority, would have to actively NOT stand out in order for a few of us to do something *special* that will differentiate us (whether positively or negatively is up to each of us) from the rest. It's not easy. And that's why the challenge interests me... and the possible outcome terrifies me.

Maybe that's why I so enjoy moving to different continents - oh, yeah. When I move away from home, I don't just go to an apartment in another neighborhood, oh no. I change continents. I try to go as far as I can possibly afford. So my first move was from Barranquilla to Augusta. Then I went to the farthest possible place, Lampang. And then to Bogotá. And then to Madrid. And I find myself now in Kiel.

It's a great conversation starter, you know? And it makes for a great initial differentiator.

...except when my interlocutors are also globetrotters.

So then I dig deeper into myself and think, Hm, what makes me *special-er* than them? And I reply to myself, I can fluently speak two languages and am very well advanced on my third one. I pat myself on the back thinking I'm pretty awesome, you know.

...except when I realize that my interlocutors are all multi-lingual globetrotters.

I know I'm special, I just have to really concentrate on finding that one detail that makes me special. And I find it: After successfully completing two bachelor degrees (magna cum laude, ahem), I am now pursuing a Masters degree. I kind of inflate my chest and feel like doing a victory dance.

...except when I realize that my interlocutors are all multi-lingual globetrotters pursuing MA and PhD degrees.

There has got to be something, I know I have something that makes me different from these people. Something that makes me stand out, something that makes people remember me. It's not so much a matter of them liking me as it is a matter of them knowing who I am. And remembering it. So I look for more detailed things; like, ok, we are all multi-lingual here. But my Spanish is by far the best.

...except when I realize that my interlocutors include two other Colombians, a Mexican, a Guatemalan two Argentinians and a Spaniard.

Ok, then, my English is by far the best.

...except when I realize that my interlocutors include an American.

Oh, but my southern accent is the best.

...except when I realize that my American interlocutor is from Nashville, TN.

(And that I really can't do a southern accent.)

My German. My German as a foreign language is the best - in the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, right? I mean, not only is my German really, really good, but also my progress is something awe-inspiring.

...except when I realize that most of my interlocutors speak far better than I do, and have apparently had the same learning period.

Maybe, I think, I shall be noticed because my German is by far the worst?

...except when I realize that some of my interlocutors are from the Middle and Far East and have serious problems with western pronunciations.

I am average. I am ordinary. I am normal. I am one of the lot.

I am not the prettiest nor the ugliest. I am not the fattest nor the skinniest. I am not the tallest nor the shortest.

I am average. I am ordinary. I am normal. I am one of the lot.

And I have no idea how to not be.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why must it all be sexual?

When learning a new language, we all make mistakes. That's normal. Native speakers are generally patient and kind. Generally. The thing is... there is only so much I (as a foreign national, trying my best to learn their language) can get away with.

Take Thailand, for instance. Thai is a damn hard language to learn: they have 46 graphemes (symbols, so to speak) that with 10 "accent marks" represent more than 100 possible sounds. In my mother tongue, Spanish, we attach one (1) phoneme (sound) to every grapheme. It's super simple. It's easy. English is not quite as easy, what with short and long vowels and all, but it's easier than Thai. I could get away with my Thai because the people noted I was trying real hard. Also, I made it my mission to learn only a few phrases to help me survive - but to learn then perfectly. My mission was to pronounce them so well that, if with eyes covered, even the Thais couldn't tell my nationality.

My plan worked. My numbers were awesome. My "how much does it cost?" and my "No way, man, too expensive!" were both colloquial, current, and cool.

Until I asked for bananas...

You see, in Thailand, the word for bananas is very, very, very similar to the word for penis. The way I remember it, banana sounds /kloo-EH/ and penis sounds /KLUH-eh/. Or something like that. And when I said it, even today, when I say it, the difference is perfectly clear. I am clearly saying banana banana banana. There is no reason why I would say "penis" in public. Still, there was an awkward moment when I kept asking a man how much he would charge me for his penis...

Or the time that, when trying to teach my Thai senior students how to properly pronounce the /th/, I stuck my tongue out, grabbed it, showed it to them... and was later accused of masturbating in front of my students, because the tongue is a sexual organ in Thailand.

I seriously wonder how I was not fired nor deported.

Now, you'd think that these pronunciation issues happen only with weird Asian languages. Wrong. Look at what happened to me in Germany.

So there I was, talking to my German father at the dinning table. He was telling me all about a trip he was planning on making to some island somewhere to see some awesome bird gathering that only happens once a year. Or something like that. I am not yet skilled enough to understand every word he says, so I must try to get it by context and main words. Anyway. Island. Birds. Awesome.

Try to follow me here: the German word for bird is Vogel. The plural form (that is, more than one bird) is Vögel. So far so good, right? The German language uses the prefix ge- for many things, such as gegooglet (meaning, googled), gepostet (meaning, posted)... So, in trying to be witty and cute and all-knowing, I said to him, "Ah, dann wirst du gevögelt!", meaning something along the lines of, "Ah, then you'll be filled with birds!"

Only gevögelt does not have anything to do with birds.

After chuckling for a little bit, he explained that word actually described that which men and women do with the lights off. Or on. But in a very, very nasty way.

And thus I return to my original question: Why must it all be sexual?!

PS: I'm still blushing...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

If you have nothing nice to eat -

Today's post is an exception to the normal Monday-publishing schedule because it is part of Blog Action Day 2011.

I've always been complicated when it comes to food. People who know me only now (now that I am mature and grand and magnanimous) may *think* I am complicated - but I am the loveliest dinner guest, now that I've grown up. And I have my father to thank (I don't thank my father for many things, so you know this must be important). I believe in the "tough love" theory of upbringing. I believe in it because it works. It's not nice, it's not pretty, and it hurts a little - but it works.

I had issues with food all along. I used to eat nothing but chicken. The story goes that we went to the beach one day to eat fish - what else would one eat at the beach? When the waiter offered all the varieties of fish available, I asked about the chicken. He gave me a weird look, but my mother was quick to interrupt: "Yes, please, she will have the chicken-fish." And so it was settled.

One time, I guess I must have been about 7 or 8 years old, my parents, my little sister and I went to spend the weekend out of town. We had a nice apartment in a city on the coast, right on the beach, beautiful view, an hour away from our home. When we arrived, the neighbors were having a huge dinner party and kindly invited us - although we were not in their plans nor on their list. The hostess, who was very fond of me, in trying to be extra special, gave me a double serving. When I received my plate, although I was (and still am) a very, very polite young lady, I said, "Ew, that's, like, green soup-", I dipped my spoon in the soup and I could see millions of veggies and dead animals swimming inside it, "-and with vegetables? Uh, no, thank you very much. I am not hungry."

My father was so embarrassed, had it not been illegal to kill me, he would have (the host was a criminal lawyer... it was seriously a bad idea). He apologized on my behalf and whispered in my ear, "That was your last meal. You will learn what it's like to feel hunger."

You have to know something about my father: when he says something, he goes through with it. And although he might realize sometime down the road that he was, in fact, wrong, or exaggerating, or just plan mistaken, he will still go through with it. His damn pride.

It will be ok, I thought. I wasn't hungry anyway - I mean, who would be hungry after seeing that disgusting green porridge, like something out of a Dr. Seuss book? And I was sure that my mom would save me the next day. Morning came and there was no breakfast for me. Oh, whatever, I thought. I was still not hungry. Lunchtime, and no food for me. Now I was starting to feel it. But being my father's daughter, I kept it all inside me and didn't flinch. In noting my strength, my father decided to take us kids to a candy store to buy all we could hold in our hands. He never ever did that. My dad is all about saving money, not spending it. Guess which child came out with nothing in her hands - but also, guess which child did not shed a tear.

Dinner time came by and my mom sneaked a piece of bread and coke in my room. My father found out - I can still hear him screaming. The next morning, friends of my father's came to visit, and the wife sneaked me a sandwich. I was such a brat - I opened the sandwich and found tomato and lettuce. Although I was starving, I said, "Oh, no thank you, I don't eat vegetables." She was appalled. Offended. Surprised. In awe. Lunch again, and seeing as I was a little pale, my father accepted that my mother sneak me a normal veggie-less sandwich, which I devoured. At dinner, I was no longer able to stay awake, I was so weak. Seeing me, my father approached me and asked me if I would like something to eat. My eyes grew wide open and I almost smiled. He said, "You will be able to eat if you eat every single bit I put on your plate now." I agreed.

He came back with a huge plate: spaghetti with a lame Bolognese sauce, white rice, plantains, and a shish-kabob thingy. I guess he knew me well enough and loved me enough not to serve me a salad. I ate every single bite. I ate everything - but I have to admit that the whole time I was thinking, "Ew! Who eats spaghetti and white rice?!"

I was spoiled. I still am. I wish I could say that I have never ever again rejected a meal. I have. 20 years have gone by and I still say, "No thank you" when I don't like what is being served. I am, however, not as impolite as to say, "Ew!" I think it, though.

I don't think my father changed me. I am who I am, and I eat what I eat. But he did educate me. He gave me his own personal version of, If you have nothing nice to eat, don't eat nothing at all.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I can't complain anymore

I got good news today. News so good, that I almost forgot that my heart is broken because the owner of the cat took away my cat. News so good that a friend of mine thought I was pregnant - no, not pregnant. Let's hope for a ring before we hope for anything further, yes?

So the good news - ready? I finally have the official, signed, sealed and delivered documents that make me a Masters student at the Christian Albrechts Universität zu Kiel. YAY! I get to begin my masters! Finally! Just in case you're wondering, it's called "English and American Literature, Cultures and Media." And it will be amazing.

But don't worry - not that you are worrying. I still have to continue with my German course. Some crazy thing about "When in Rome..." Only, for me it is more of a "When in Germany..." thing.

And so, because it was my huge dream and all, I ain't allowed to complain no mo'.

When it's too cold outside and I must be off to study, you may tweet me saying, "Suck it up, bee-otch, you can't complain, you wanted this!"

When I have too much to read and write, you may facebook-inbox me saying, "Whatever, dude, quit your whining and getter-done, you fought real hard for this!"

When I complain that the classes are too light or too boring, or that my classmates are too young or too stupid, send me a BBM and tell me, "Oh, bless your heart... but that was your dream!"

When I snooze way too many times because I cannot get myself to leave the bed at ungodly early hours in the morning, email me saying, "Nuh-uh! Get up, lazy-bones, you choose this all by yourself!"

So you need to do this for me, ok? Because, well, I will complain. I will tweet about it. I will update my facebook status about it. I will BBM my contacts about. I will email about it. And of course I will blog about it. And when I do so, you need to remind me of THIS post. Because the time will come when it will be too cold in Germany - and it won't even be winter. The time will come when I have too much to read, but I also have an apartment to take care of, and god forbid I don't take care of Honey... I will surely have one (I will be blessed if it is only one) classmate whom I will hate, or a class that I will dislike. I will have to leave un-showered to class more often than not... and surely that day will be cold, dark and rainy, or even snowy.

But I want this, I want this masters. You have no idea (or maybe you do?) how much I've struggled for this. It is my dream. It was my decision.

And that is why I can't complain anymore!

Monday, October 3, 2011

About a cat -

I really enjoy being at home. I have no problem at all staying home all day - I actually rather enjoy it. Especially when it is cold and gray and rainy outside (which in northern Germany could very well be every single day). But a few days ago, I have to admit it was actually pretty beautiful outside. So beautiful, in fact, that I made it a point to find an excuse to leave the house (because I clearly need an excuse to leave the house, right?). And so, I left.

But I only made it to the door. As soon as I opened the door to my apartment, a cute little tiny baby cat ran inside. My first reaction was, "OMG! I have a wild animal in my home. I should call the Animal Control Center so that they may handle this ferocious creature!" The poor ferocious creature was running all around like crazy, looking for something that he couldn't find. He ran into the living room, he ran into the bedroom, he ran into the kitchen - he ran everywhere, except outside.

This is the ferocious creature that invaded my home. Can you hear him roar?
The ferocious creature was stuck in the evil bathtub for about 10 minutes.

All I could do was stand there, looking at him. Surprised. Scared. I asked him (in Spanish), "What's up, lil' dude?" He looked me in the eye and said, "Meow". Not much of a talker, I noticed. I was afraid to hold him, because animals are dangerous and dirty. Right? And cats are particularly dirty, what with their Toxoplasma gondii and stuff. I know, because I translated the dossier for the reagent that tests for Toxo. But, whatever. The poor cat was running around like crazy, and he was dirty and surely hungry. So I fed him. I fed him the only thing I could think of: Milk. (Lesson No. 1: Do NOT feed a cat milk. Unless you enjoy cleaning kitty-poopy in the wee hours of the morn.) He drank his milk and meowed further.

Ferocious beast devouring milk.

At that moment, I realized that he was only a baby beast and so I figured I could hold him. He was so happy to be held. Furry little hair-ball. I was sure he belonged to someone - I mean, such a cute little monster had to belong to someone. But, to whom? I rang the doorbell in every single one of my neightbors' apartments, but no one answered. (The Germans have this crazy thing called "Work" that they go to during the day - pfft!).

And so I came to the most reasonable decision: The kitty was to stay with me, at least until Honey was home. That was not at all a problem. The problem was that the kitty wanted to eat. But what? What do kitties eat? And, was he really a kitten, or only a small cat? Because I've heard they need to be fed accordingly. But what? I tried carrots and an onion.  (Lesson No. 2A: Cats don't eat vegetables.) I tried  Corn Flakes and Müsli. (Lesson No. 2B: Cats don't like Kellogs thingies.) I tried bread. (Lesson No. 2C: Cats like bread.) 

The beast eating little pieces of bread.
After feeding him, I had no clue what I should do next. I mean, what does one do with a cat? Should I play with him? Should I let him be? Should I take him out for a walk? (Lesson No. 3: Answers for the above questions --> Yes, Yes, NO!

The kitty enjoyed playing a little...
...then he enjoyed sleeping A LOT.

Clueless, I sad down on the floor. The cat immediately climbed on me. Crazy thing, that cat was. I asked him something else (also in Spanish) and he ignored me; then I asked him in German, and he meowed. (Lesson No. 4: Cats speak the country's language.

My German mother suggested that I create some kind of kitty toilet. And then it hit me: OMG! I can't leave this monster alone! He'll poop in places I will never know of! And so I began to follow the kitty around (I was so grateful that my apartment is so tiny...), which was just an awesome Tag game for him. He won. But I exercised a little. Win-Win.

The temporary kitty-toilet. BTW, it didn't work...

Although we were having a lot of fun together, I could not help but think that this cat belonged to someone. And this someone was more than likely really sad, because his ferocious creature was lost. Still -- I was in love. He was my little bit of heaven.

When Honey came home, we made a decision: If in one week no one claimed the cat, it would belong to me (he said "us", but whatever). He bought cat food and kitty litter; I posted some FOUND posters; and then there was nothing else to do but wait... and play!

Unfortunately, the owner of the cat called early the next morning. He lives two floors below me. He opened his door only for a second and the cat stormed out. He was late for work, so he couldn't run and search for the cat. He could only hope that a wonderful, magnanimous, awesome person (like me) found it and took care of it. He sounded really sad on the phone. And when he came over, the stupid cat recognized him at once.

So, yeah. That is my story about a car. When I gave the cat back, I felt like a little bit of me heart was breaking apart. I felt like there was a hole being dug in my soul. But, oh, well. I guess all I can do it be thankful, that for one day, one day at least, I had a cat.