In the past month, I spent a handfull of days in and out of the hospital, having CAT scans and blood tests, with an undecided but looming pre-diagnosis of tuberulosis. Much to my appreciation, my Quito host family took me in during those dramatic days. And one night during my stay, my sister invited me to attend a close friends birthday gathering. He himself had been an exchange student in high school, studying in the US for 9 months. This is an exerpt from my night and our conversation:
“Aprendi the hard way” he said. And a cheery sonrisa (smile) broke out across my face at his Spanglish. Rather suddenly I felt at home, knowing both what he meant and why he chose to phrase it that way. Aprendi en el camino dificil didn’t quite have the same ring to it.
Between us communication wasn’t an issue. We both spoke both languages. So did they. The four of us, bilingual youth living in a modern world, sat cross-legged like squatters on the bare floor. Pushing our limits and playing with language. He dropped another disk into the plastic Connect Four frame.
With shy admittance, I told him about the time on this past Christmas when I, very publicly and amusingly, asked my host mother what the difference between the Spanish words for great and genital were in front of a crowd of semi-sober Ecuadorians.
“That reminds me…” he replied and went on to divulge an equally laughable story about mixing up the words naked and wasted at a high school party during his own year abroad in Texas. Imagining the scene, I stifled a giggle and added my own red disk to the growing matrix, making three in a row.
With reluctant red cheeks, we looked back on the tricky affair that was learning a second language. Both having achieved an admirable level of fluency in each other’s native tongue, we mixed the latest from Daddy Yankee with the classics of Katy Perry and exchanged slang over spicy tacos and hot apple pie.
A cross-cultural exchange couldn’t get more complete than this, I thought to myself. Raised on opposite sides of the equator, from vastly different backgrounds, undoubtedly bound to distinct and unseen societal standards, we discussed art, film, and family. We shared recipes for BBQ chicken wings and humitas (a kind of Ecuadorian sweet tamale) and laughed with an ease of childhood friends, playing childhood games.
With a quick clink, he tossed the last red disk into place and we all erupted into a victorious chorus of Connect Four! referring both to ourselves and to the game (best enjoyed between the ages 5-10).