What remains from my two years in Colombia? Memories, of course, as well as relationships. Physically, almost nothing. I was never one to accumulate souvenirs or mementos, and I forced myself to leave behind what I would have most liked to have kept. The most overwhelming tangible evidence of my time there and how I spent my days are the hundreds of little scraps of paper with words jotted down on them, revoloteando around me, alighting on surfaces, lodging themselves in my hair . . . The other day, one of the papers mysteriously made its way to my dresser. I don’t know how; I don’t know why. I thought I’d share it with you to give you an idea of the kind of Spanish you can learn on a typical day in Colombia, or at least a part of a day. For all I remember, I learned these words in five minutes of talking. It was one of my very last days in Medellín, in early December 2011. All of these words came from conversations.
1. arremedar – to imitate, copy; to ape, mimic, mock. The more standard version of the verb is remedar. As you can see, I first thought it was arremendar. So, who was it that aped me? I certainly gave people a lot of funny fodder to work with.
2. comisionista – an agent, someone working on commission. We were looking for a new apartment at the time.
3. farrear – to party–regional slang. This is the only word whose context I included, and I remember it well. I was in a taxi with my ex and his mom in Bello, and I saw some graffiti on a decrepit wall that said No farees, compre comida. (Don’t go out partying; buy food.) (Maybe I wrote it down wrong, seeing as the commands mix tú with usted.) I could easily guess what farrear meant (as I know farra), but I thought it was such an interesting and strange exhortation to the pueblo from what I imagine was some average citizen. Was that a big problem there, people squandering what little money they made on drinks and clubs and not providing for their families? Who was it that decided that enough was enough and that eloquent graffiti could move people to do the right thing? I don’t think my curiosity was ever satisfied. Wish I could show you a picture.
4. pensum – curriculum, course requirements, syllabus. Basically, everything that a course covers. It comes from Latin. I’ve never heard or seen it in English, but the dictionary says “a task assigned in school often as a punishment.” I was looking for (and finding) work as a teacher at the time– maybe someone had asked me what I’d have to cover in my classes.
5. sonda – catheter, tube. I blogged about it here before. Both my ex’s mom and sister worked in hospitals, and many family members were in poor health at the time.
6. postrado/a – bedridden, confined to bed, prostrate. Like I said, conversations about health were common. Probably good preparation for what I do now.
7. Nanay cucas – No way, José; not a chance–extremely Colombian. I was still in the taxi with my ex and his mom, and I want to say that someone on the radio said this phrase. It was a phrase that I had read before but never heard, so I was happy and asked my ex about it. I then taught him the phrase No way, José in English. I think he was surprised that we would use a very Hispanic name in a colloquial phrase, and I responded by drolly telling him that it’s because we Americans are so diverse, international, and inclusive. Nooo, he quickly countered, it was a blatant example of racism. Just think about it. Oh, whatever you want, Kevin; absolutely, Derek; of course you may, Brandon; you didn’t even need to ask, Steve; NO WAY, JOSÉ. His comic timing and mock earnestness were perfect. It’s been an extremely long time since I’ve laughed that uproariously. There was no point in trying to explain my side-splitting laughter or the tears in my eyes to his mom; I’m sure I just told her that her son was muy charro and left it at that.
8. no estar ni tibio/a – to be way off the mark, to be crazy, to have another thing coming–Colombian phrase. I was way off the mark if I thought I still had much more time to be in Colombia.
9. lamber – to suck up, kiss up, be a teacher’s pet, be a brown noser–regional slang. Lambón/a and lambiscón/a are the noun forms. In some places, though, lamber is often used as lamer, and that’s why I put the star next to it, I think. Of course, I can’t be expected to remember the significance of every star.
Here’s the other side of the paper.
The first part appears to be either a brief shopping list or the ingredients for a recipe. APF is all-purpose flour. As there are no instructions, it’s probably a shopping list. Isn’t it funny to list that you need two eggs? (I don’t think I wrote that 2) Such a foreign, quaint concept to me now. Well, that was one of the great things about living in Colombia: huevos menudiados. Everything was close by, I walked everywhere within a 20-minute radius without even thinking about it, and I did most things on a smaller, simpler scale.
I’m guessing that the second part is a list of words that my ex learned that day. His English was very good, but sometimes we all forget basic words in the middle of conversation. I know he must have written that last word–I don’t dot my i’s. Unfortunately, I can’t piece together even the foggiest recollection of what we were doing when we said those words–it’s really only the Spanish that has stuck with me. Thankfully, almost everything was in Spanish.
God, I am missing Colombia today. Sorry to wax nostalgic. I love Spanish and words, but every one of those words is tethered to memories, emotions, and people for me. Speaking Spanish here just isn’t the same. I speak in Spanish, and for a minute there I recreate a world, reconjure up loved ones who are far away, and reembody someone I used to be. I know I was born into the wrong language; maybe I’m a fool to live so far away from it. Things that have been swirling around in my head lately.
If some stranger were to find this in the street, what ideas would they get? If I put this in a time capsule for someone to discover in 3013, what would they think they were looking at? What kinds of Spanish vocabulary relics do you have in your life? What sorts of stories do those words tell?