Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Inappropriate or Just Curious?

September 6, 2011 – Inappropriateness
During class on Monday Giancarlo adheres to Peruvian male tradition and asks me if I have a boyfriend.
It took five classes for him to ask. If I’d bet on this question with Katrina, I think both she and I would have lost. We’d expected him to ask the first day I came along with her. She even gave him multiple chances by saying, “Ask another question,” during the bonus conversation time with a new English speaker. This day, in all fairness to him, it does fit into the conversation.

“How did you meet your wife?” I ask to get the class started. It’s a good warm up.

“I went to this disco-club and she was a dancer there,” he says with a twinkle in his eyes.
I don’t as much as raise my eyebrows. “And then what?”

He’s looking at me intently, waiting for a response. He laughs. “It was a joke.” He laughs some more. “She was a dancer was a joke.”
“You mean a stripper?” I clarify.  

He laughs again, a little nervously this time. “Haha. Yes. A stripper. It was a joke.” He looks at my face again, trying to read me. “An open mind, right?”
Yeah, I have an open mind. “Strippers make good money,” I deadpan.

Giancarlo swivels in his chair, turns to look out the open window, swivels back. He adjusts the papers in front of him and taps the keys of his laptop. The droning cacophony of the highway seeps in with the breeze. It’s a warmer day in Lima and the air is welcome.
Katrina gets uncomfortable with Giancarlo’s jokes and questions and she’d warned me over and again about him. I think he makes his jokes because he’s a joker, and, like a child with an authority figure, he also wants to push boundaries, but I think he asks a lot of the question because he’s genuinely curious. I can understand this. I often want to ask questions that would be deemed inappropriate because I have an insatiable desire to know details.

I want to understand thoughts and emotions and feelings and behavior the way a scientific child wants to know how a toaster works (and then takes it apart to find out). But why? But why? And then what? And then why? That’s what I want to know.  

“So, how did you meet your wife?” I get us back on track.

“Okay. How did I meet my wife? My friends and I used to hang out in the neighborhood. There was a party, how do you say, en la cuadra?”

“Like a block party.”
“Okay. Yes. And then one of my friends presented her to me.”

“Introduced,” I correct.
He looks a little shocked. “No, presented. My friend didn’t introduce anything. He didn’t have anything to introduce.”

“In English we say, ‘introduce’ for ’presentar.’” I explain.
He looks unconvinced. “Do you know what ‘introducir’ means in Spanish?”

I have an idea, but I’m not entirely fluent on this point. I lie and tell him yes. Teachers are supposed to know everything. When I get home I look it up in my Spanish/English Dictionary. I was pretty much spot on. The Spanish word introducir can mean to put in or to insert. I’m not sure if I’m the one with the mind in the gutter or if it’s him.
“Trust me,” I tell him. “The correct English verb is introduce.”

“My friend introduced me to my wife.”
“Very good. And how old were you?”

“I was fifteen and she, my wife, was fourteen.”
“And how old were you when you got married?”

“When we got married? I was eighteen and she was seventeen. We were very young.” He switches tracks. He does this often. He pulls his chair closer to the desk then backs away. Giancarlo is constant movement. He’s molecules heated, never to know inertia again.
“My wife is going to deposit the money for the classes in the account tomorrow to pay you.”

“Great,” I say, not caught off guard by the subject switch. “Thanks.”
“Whose account is it?”

“Katrina’s boyfriend,” I reply.

He grins as if we're sharing secrets behind Katrina's back. “He’s Peruvian, right?”


“Do you have a boyfriend?”

There it is. That million dollar question.

We get it out of the way.
Giancarlo puts his forearms on the desk. He leans in a bit. Then he pushes away from the desk, stretches his legs out and runs a hand through his hair. “Here’s what I don’t understand,” he says. "Why is it that North Americans come to Peru and pick the ugliest people to be with?”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“It always seems that the North Americans come and pick the ugliest people. The beautiful ones end up with un huaco. Do you know what un huaco is?”
“No,” I say. I have no clue. I forget to be The Teacher for a moment. “Is that a bad word?”

He turns to his computer and types. I lean around to view the screen as the images flash up. Giancarlo throws his palm to cover one image and just about blushes.

It’s not hard to see which one he is embarrassed by. I hold back a smile. Giancarlo keeps his hand over the screen and points to a face.
 “This is a huaco. See the facial features? How can anyone think that is beautiful?”
“There’s a saying,” I say, “‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’” Then I have to write the saying down and explain what ‘Beholder’ means. He tells me the analogous Spanish saying and we keep on. “Maybe the North Americans think the features are beautiful.”

“I don’t see how they can. Someone like Miss Mundo,” he says. And since I don’t understand it when he says it he has to pull up another website to show me the Beauty Pageant girls for Miss World. “Someone like Miss Mundo gets with un huaco. I don’t understand.”

I can understand how differences can attract. I can understand that we each have our own ideas of what beauty is. I think I’m pretty open minded (as Giancarlo said earlier) and I don’t put limits on love, but I’m not totally exempt from some prejudice because I remember Walter’s friend Terry. Terry, to me is not an attractive North American and yet he is with a very beautiful and very young Latina woman. This, I don’t get.

“It must be for the money,” I say callously. Giancarlo agrees. “No es amor al chancho, sino al chicharrón (“it’s not love with the fat one, but with the fat one’s money,” is the non-poetic and non-literal translation).” Then we talk about the present perfect continuous and call it a class.
I have roughly three hours until I have to go teach Ivonna. I explore Surco, go to an internet cabina, gaze longingly into a closed off park and then settle for a bench on the side of a busy street so I can sit in the sun. When my time is up, I walk the mile or so to Ivonna’s house.

I help Ivonna with her homework. Katrina had told me that usually that’s what she does with Ivonna. The week I came along for training we read about The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince. I can handle depressing literature. No problem. Thanks, Oscar Wilde. But I had no idea helping her with her homework would mean we’d be doing math word problems in English. Um, mathematics is not my strong point. Half the time I'm not sure English is one of my strong points. Fortunately, Ivonna knows the math side of things. We’re dividing an insane amount of pencils equally between 9 students. We’re roughly estimating how many cars Sarah would have seen per day if she chanced to see 480 cars over five days while locked inside during her vacation due to the rain. We’re multiplying stripes on beach balls to see how many Juan has in all.
We’ve got about four problems left. I’m getting tired of sharing 1267 books between eight different tables and figuring how many remaining there will be when we’re done. Then we come to this one: “Ali has 35 soles. He wants to buy rubbers for everyone coming to his party.
If each rubber costs 2 soles how many rubbers will he be able to buy and will there be any soles remaining?”

Maybe it’s the Huaco’s fault, but at this point, all I can say is that I have a dirty mind and I need to wash it out with soap.