It has been more than three years since I have seen my family. Part of the reason for that is the isolation and the expense that comes living in rural Australia.
It’s also partly my fault given that my own mum wanted to see me before I flew from Brisbane to Peru. I thought it would make it harder seeing her before I left for South America.
I missed my family anyway. Not at first but as the weeks become months I find myself reflecting more on what has shaped my attitudes and values.
I have barely spoken to my sister for a while but she made me a playlist for Christmas which I listen to often. And she said that I had always influenced her musical tastes with all the mix CDs I used to make her (think Christian rock metal like TFK and Stryper and Switchfoot, combined with Guitar Hero playlists, and songs used for TV shows. As the years went on these were more likely to be British rock lists. The Who’s Baba O’Riley would have made an appearance, as would have The Clash and The Wombats).
But her musical tastes have grown in the late teens and so I listen to her music she chose for me, and I’m proud to now be influenced by her. She stumbled onto a song that I listened to in one of my earliest memories in life. In my memory I’m in the bathtub in the last days of my parents’ relationship and the song ‘You Can Call Me Al’ is playing. I never could figure out the name of the song.
I read this and wonder how I relate to my experience living in Peru – besides recording the fact I miss my family in a foreign country. I suppose it comes back to language.
I exaggerate when I say that I haven’t seen any of my family in three years. Before I flew from Brisbane I saw my cousin Mekaela. It’s only when I hugged her that I realised it had been so long since I had seen her or anyone else. She reads my blog but that’s not why I say what I’m about to say. She’s an inspiration in that she’s independent, younger, has the same resources I do (not many) and has already traveled and worked overseas. She lived in Brazil a while and so was able to give me some advice while we drank expensive inner-city coffee.
“It will take three months living in a foreign country before you know basic Spanish. That may not seem like a long time but it will be,” she said.
It’s nearly the three month milestone and I wonder how many words I have learned. There’s not many. It’s enough to get me by awkwardly in an American style supermarket or the restaurants, as long as the conversation doesn’t deviate from the regular pattern.
“Hamburguesa Y papas fritas. Y Cafe Con Leche. Por Favor.”
“Que? Ah. Si. Burnzy. Gracias, Senora.”
But the other night leaving a restaurant something happened that deviated from the norm. The waitress chased me down the street to try to explain something about the two 5 soles coins I handed her. I asked if she wanted more money. “Mas Soles?”
“No. fsakldjfs winaosidnfds oiansdfsdf ionasdf alns lkasdfask.”
“Ah. No comprende.”
“sisdifklfnds flkandfkldsfn oiandflkdsnf landfklsnnd.”
Luckily there was a Google translator handy so that eventually she could explain to me the coins I gave her were fake. I had spare coins fortunately. Yet the coins looked so convincing. “A foreigner giving fake coins is bad,” the waitress warned before she left.
I’ve wondered why it is that my cousin could learn so much in three months compared to me. And my Mum explained a possibility.
“Maybe it’s because she was on her own in a foreign country and didn’t have anyone to speak English with,” she said. “And you have housemates you speak English to all the time.”
And there’s truth to that.