This morning something brought to my remembrance the time my parents and I spent in language school. I was 15 when my parents moved us to Guatemala to do missions work. Our first task was to spend three months in language school, totally immersed in the language and the culture. Instead of living in our own home, we lived with a family in the same town where language school was located. This family was to provide us with rooms, food, and an opportunity to be exposed to the Spanish language on a regular basis. They gave me a room on the second floor with a big bed and right next to the bathroom. It was a great room and very comfortable. My parents had a small room on the third floor, which seemed like an add-on, located on the roof, but it was out of the way and private. The family cooked for us, which was a concern for me since I literally have the palate of a five-year old. But there are still times I taste something that reminds me of their homemade bread- it was amazing. I don’t remember much else that we ate, other than pancakes and fresh fruit in the morning. It really was a great experience. I am sure the language school intended for us to hear Spanish spoken day-in and day-out in the home, since they had us living with a Guatemalan family. But what they may not have known is that this family had a separate home behind the one where we lived. The family did not actually live with us. They lived beyond a concrete courtyard of sorts. At night, I would turn my lights off in my room and stare out the window. I would watch the family come and go. I would watch them interact with one another. I would sit at my window for hours. I wasn’t being creepy. It’s just that we did not have a television. There were no phones, no internet. There was nothing to do when I retired to my bedroom in the evening other than read, write, or just sit quietly. I looked out my window a lot.
Language school was fun. We spent four hours a day, five days a week, with our teachers. They were sure to make it a one-on-one experience in which the learner was forced to learn in order to be able to communicate in any way. My teacher was young, maybe in her early twenties. She and I sat alone at a table with nothing but a notebook and a pen. She spoke no English. I spoke no Spanish. In just a matter of weeks, I was speaking Spanish fluently and my teacher and I were taking regular field trips to my favorite bakery, Cenicientas, for brownies.
After a couple months or so of language school, my parents began to question their teachers and their abilities to learn the language. My teacher was hired to come to our new home, thirty minutes away, to teach all three of us. I guess my parents thought my teacher was somehow better than theirs since I was speaking fluently and they were still struggling to understand. The fact that they were trying to learn a new language in their forties, made things quite interesting. The three of us would sit at the dining room table with our language teacher and her trusty notebook and pen. We would sit and learn together and laugh hysterically at the different things my dad would say. One day, he looked out the window, stared at the volcano in the distance, and proudly announced, “Yo leo el volcano.” The translation, “I read the volcano.” But my favorite was when he held up his plastic drinking cup and proclaimed, “Mis vecinos son plasticos.” Translation, “My neighbors are plastic.” We laughed so hard as we sat around that table.
I celebrated my 16th birthday that summer, during our language school days. It wasn’t a glamourous sweet 16 party with all of my friends. It was quiet, just the three of us. But I will never forget that my mom made me a chocolate birthday cake and my parents bought me a jacket that they saw me starting at in the local market. They also managed to buy my favorite brownie from Cenicientas. I will never forget that summer, not because of big things that took place or because of big events, but because of all of the little things. It is the little things that keep coming back to my memory. It is the little things that creep into my mind and bring a smile to my face. Sometimes it really is the little things. =)