“Prompts for the Promptless” is a weekly prompt link up, focused on sharing perspectives and expanding minds.
Generally, I try to refrain from calling Salvadoran grandmothers assholes.
Yet sitting on a steamy patio in 2005, watching wrinkled faces twist and grimace, I knew my request to embroider a rabbit had gone terribly wrong.
This scene is all too familiar for anyone who has muddled through a semester, or even a short jaunt, to a foreign-speaking land.
The smug satisfaction of looking down on those who went to England or Australia is coupled with the resignation that they probably didn’t unwittingly ask their professor for a condom, or spend a good half hour asking strangers in Belize City where they kept their box of gold.
Which brings us back to the rabbit.
My undergraduate time abroad was with an incredible program that links study at the local university with practical work in the communities of San Salvador, El Salvador. Paired up with a women’s artisan cooperative, I spent my days listening to stories of family, civil war, survival, faith, neoliberalismo, and loss, then teaching English to their children in the afternoon.
The realities I encountered at AcoSilvia, even just the bus ride to the neighborhood’s gate, shattered my conceptions of struggle, human capacity, strength, hope, and my place in the midst of it all.
My normally verbose nature was muted by the linguistic divide – learning most of your Spanish from books will not help you in the middle of a sewing lesson. Instead I listened hard, trying to mimic their words and then use them to convey my own thoughts.
I repeated my request again, switching up feminine/masculine, figuring that’s where I’d gone wrong.
As I attempted to puzzle through the looks on their faces, all trying so hard to be gentle and kind, the women eventually broke into a pitch of laughter I’ve only been blessed with a few times in my life. Never have you lived until you have seen a septuagenarian roll out of her chair from the giggles.
I looked around bewildered, but knowing that their laughter contained no judgement, only love.
Softly, our supervisor pointed to a rabbit she’d just sewn and said “conejo…no…la otra palabra” [rabbit…not…the other word].
The particular shade of red/pink I turned was surely impressive, but smiling, each woman made her way over to me, always thanking me for trying (and slyly pointing to other objects and saying the name very, very slowly).
Their grace has been echoed, by and large, throughout my travels and because of conejo I always keep trying – no matter what slips of the tongue may occur.
Dispatch this week to Tiburon!