Small Victories

One of the hardest things about moving to a place that speaks another language is how hard things suddenly become. Tasks that used to be second nature now require twenty minutes with a dictionary, as well as a lengthy battle with doubts that would normally seem ridiculous, but which you’ve now convinced yourself are totally legitimate. Most recently: calling to order 10 kilos of gas to power my stove.

Do I really need to order gas? How necessary is a stove anyway? I can totally get by for the next year with just a microwave.

Well no, actually, I can’t, but congratulations to me for convincing myself to put off calling the gas company for another day.

Most of the time my doubts prove to be unfounded. Take the gas for example. After agonizing for at least thirty-six hours about how much of a disaster I was sure it was going to be, the reality was that I put in a call, gave my address, and within forty minutes was cooking up a pot of cocktail potatoes. Easy. No big deal. Perú 0, Adele 1.

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Cocktail potatoes with huancaina

Sometimes, though, things don’t go quite as smoothly.

This past weekend, fully taking advantage of the 80 degree days, I was going to spend the day frolicking about on the beach. It’s worth noting that most trips to the beach involve a bit of ehm, personal grooming beforehand. On a teacher’s budget, this typically means a few hurried minutes in the shower with a razor. However, embracing the “Treat Yourself” philosophy (strengthened, of course, by the 25 soles price tag for a bikini wax, ten more for a full Brazilian) I headed to a local spa on Camila’s recommendation.

She can attest that the whole way there I was asking questions: How do I say this? Should I tip? But wait, how do I say THIS? I thought that if I just had the right vocabulary, the right sentences planned out, then the whole process would be smooth and mostly painless (pun absolutely intended).

Boy was I wrong.

From the moment I began explaining what I wanted to the moment I hobbled out to the register, my Peruvian waxing experience was one long string of awkwardness and frustration, and barely comprehensible attempts at small talk with the esthetician. Those carefully planned sentences? Didn’t use them. The meticulously studied vocabulary? Totally forgotten. I spent thirty minutes pretending to read a style magazine from last August and left feeling as uncouth and foolish as I did the first time I ever tried to speak Spanish. Perú 1, Adele 1.

Even so, just like I did when I was firing up my freshly re-fuelled gas stove, I walked out of that spa patting myself on the back. Completing small, everyday actions (however unsuccessfully) that have suddenly become ten times as difficult and twenty times as awkward feels to me like an absolute victory.

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A sunny February day at the pool

All the fumbling and blushing (and hesitant attempts at using the subjunctive) become worth it upon realizing that yes, I’m fully capable of doing everything I need to in a different language. When every day has its share of victories, how can’t I feel like a winner?

 

 

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