Home away from home

I’ve been here for nine days now, and am settling into a routine. Below is a photo of my family’s casa.

DSCN0584

My homestay family is very large, for a couple of reasons.

First, most Nicaraguan families live together in some way even after children are grown. The ones that do move out live very close to home and visit one another often.

Second, my homestay mother, whom I affectionately call Mama Adilia, is the grandmother of 13 (I think) and the mother of 5. Four of the adult children live nearby, almost within walking distance, and the fifth lives with Mama Adilia. Her son is Rodrigo, who also lives here.

Every evening the family gets together here, in the grandmother’s house, to eat dinner, hang out on the front porch/courtyard area, and talk. There are easily up to 20 people going through the house in the evening almost every day. It was very overwhelming for me at first, especially because I have a difficult time communicating, to see so many faces and be around so many conversations I couldn’t understand. It’s still a little overwhelming. Tonight some adult cousins and great-uncles came over.

It’s getting better however, and much of that is because of Maria. She is the 9-year-old granddaughter of Mama Adilia, and she is the cutest little “sister” I could possibly ever have. About three days ago Maria realized I was having trouble putting together who was married to whom, and who their children were, so she made me a list, complete with ages and the parents of the children. I was so grateful.

It is very difficult to be around so many people that talk quickly. I give up trying to understand. Even students I’ve met that are close to fluent say that they give up when a group of Nicaraguans begin to talk. I’ve been able to communicate to Mama Adilia and Gladys, Maria’s mother, that I need to see their mouths when they talk, and that my ears really don’t pick up the sounds as well as theirs do. I know the words, but my ears really don’t pick up the subtleties of Spanish like they do English.

For example, if a friend is talking to me in English and a loud truck goes by, I’m likely to put the syllables together and guess what the words are that I missed, put them into context, and keep going. That is impossible for me in Spanish. Unless some is extremely clear, sometimes I need to hear things twice. Unless it’s an academic conversation or something about history. Then, because of cognates and the hand gestures that usually go with complicated topics, I can follow along fairly well. I don’t catch every word, but I get the gist of what is being said.

Gladys has begun speaking slowly to me, and repeating stories in a way that I can understand, even after everyone in the room laughed at the joke. Her youngest son is always willing to show off how many random English words he knows, as long as play with him. Her daughter, Maria, is always ready to teach me Spanish and correct my pronunciation.

I have been writing all the vocabulary I need to memorize (pages and pages and pages of it) in a yellow notebook. Last night, Maria quizzed me on the nouns/adjectives that I had and began to explain some of the verbs to me. She knows a few basic words in English, so sometimes I help her out there.  We got to the C’s, and came across “cruzar” (to cross) and “cursar.”

Delighted to have stumped me on the latter’s meanings, she whipped out a pencil and her own notebook.

“See?” she said, pointing to the verbs she had written. “Cruzar and cursar. They SOUND the same, but they are very different.”

I nodded.

“Repeat after me,” she commanded. “Cruzar. Cursar.”

I did.

“They SOUND the same. These words are homophones. Can you say that word with me? Homophones.” Maria exaggerated her pronunciation.

I was trying not to laugh at this point, and earned a glare for my amusement.

“Do you know what homophones are?” She asked, her tone of voice revealing that I had better know, or she would be quite upset.

I nodded again.

“Tell me,” Maria said, tapping her pencil on the arm of the rocking chair.

I told her that they were words that sounded alike but had different meanings.

“Very good,” she said. “Just remember. They are different.”

With that teaching, why am I paying a school?

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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