Traveling isn’t what it used to be. Though I never flew when meals were hot and near restaurant quality, I heard stories of steaks in first class. I’ve seen films. I have had hints of traveling mercies — like when I once had enough points to be bumped up and enjoy a freshly heated chocolate chip cookie and cold glass of milk before arriving in Seattle. Or the time when the international flight was overbooked and I was greeted in one country by a uniform-clad messenger and told I would be making my way to the next country with actual space between my knees and the seat in front of me (first class again).
But for the most part, travel in my time has been a chore.
When I flew to Costa Rica my new duffle bag gave up before ever leaving the staging hotel and I found myself at 3:30 a.m. trying to duct tape may way to some sense of security as the airport-bound bus was being filled with other volunteers and their two bags — all we were allotted. Though I had made a math class out of discovering if I was carrying too heavy of a load and knew with certainty that I would get a pass, I cringed when I saw my fellow trainees with bags wide open discarding and shifting and trying to cajole the baggage handlers who stood between them and expensive hair products which were destined to soon be in someone’s handbag or trash but weren’t going to San Jose.
And even though I’ve been to more than 20 countries, I still hesitate when filling out the required forms distributed on the plane before landing. I know I don’t have drugs, money, or contraband. I know that I haven’t been frolicking in cow pastures. I know that I’m free of disease and passport ready and yet I still fear that I will have to endure the glower of a customs agent, the frustration of a bored passport control officer.
What I didn’t realize when I made my way through the Costa Rican system, was that I should have left one item at the luggage carrier upon my arrival. That, of course, was my ego. I really have no use for it here. No matter how impressive I might think myself to be, language is the great humbler. I can make my way across country and secure deals and address hotel screw ups but my Spanish stumbles out like some drunken husband timidly fretting what his wife will say when he finally pours himself through the front door after an all nighter. My sentences don’t flow. My words have no rhythm. Even the drunk eventually finds his keys. The key to my language learning has yet to be discovered. I slur, reset, and repeat until both my confidante and I grow weary of the process.
So yes … I helped script and stage manage the National English Festival. Yes I wrote and helped produce a short video that may launch a social media campaign. Yes I taught high schoolers how to spell, present, and have a fun conversation in English. And yes I’m in the middle of launching a new social media presence for Peace Corps Costa Rica (on top of the other campaign) and yes, I have a new position with the national department of education and will be returning to the San Jose area.
But no, I don’t sound like I know what I’m talking about whenever I speak. No I can’t remember which is the word meaning “rule” and which is the one for “present” and I’ve asked close to 20 times. No, I’m not sure what the potential benefactor is offering in his WhatsApp messages to me, what my host mom just said she was putting in front of me for lunch, and exactly how to get to the yoga class that I still have to do with my eyes half open because I’m not sure if we are suppose to be deep breathing while standing or getting a grip on the light within.
At this point, my ego is sufficiently aware of what it is not, what I am not.
And though I’m not a fluent Spanish speaker, I am also not a quitter. So 2016, here we go. The only ticket I have for this phase simply says “mejor” so I will hold fast to the idea that this year, bruised ego and all, I will be better.