An Authentic Latin Experience (part 1)
Twelve months later, 7 students, another teacher and I were slurping cocktails (not the kids, I promise) on the plane to Lima, Peru. It took 10 months of preparations. I met with parents, attorneys, (just kidding!) collected money, booked flights, copied documents, releases and medical reports and if phone calls and emails were tangible objects, I generated enough to fill the U.S. passport building.
The wine tasted good with my dinner and it helped loosen the knot in my stomach. That would be the knot you get when you hope that someone will really be there to meet you when you land in a developing country with 7 teen-agers. In your head, you know you did enough research to validate the facts, but until you actually meet a real person face-to-face, there's always that little knot in your gut.
This is where you have to face your fear or ignore it. I chose to ignore it. We landed in Lima and a deepish voice behind me snickered "Welcome to Kazakhstan." I know exactly who said it. We skated through immigration, snatched our bags and made our way through customs. We felt like gazelles grazing on the Serengeti plains. You know the plains I'm talking about. The home to man-eating lions. Not that we were in danger, but we felt vulnerable.
When we came from behind the partition that separates the arriving people from the greeting people, we saw a wall of pulsing, waving latinos and each and every one of them was staring at us! Were we in a nightclub or an airport? This was the moment of truth. Somewhere in the crowd a man was holding a small, dry-erase board with our name on it. (Oh please let it be so!) I spotted him as we made our way along the receiving line of greeters. I approached him and asked him if he spoke English. This part of the story would be really boring if he had said, "yes." (fortunately he did not!) Another element to add to our authentic, latin experience.
Twenty years ago I was fluent in Spanish, but not so much now. I have been involved in enough athletic events to know that when you get to this point in the race, you dig deep. That's what I had to do now. I dug down for the spanish words that I once knew, and the guts to spew out the misshapen remnants of a language that was once literally the language of my dreams. I don't know if the students were as impressed as I was, but the transition to our hotel was smooth. The desk clerk was expecting us, (surely another good sign that all was well) and we checked in to our rooms. I even managed to ask for bottled water and reminded everyone to brush their teeth with it. My first night and I was feeling pretty proud of myself. So far, so good. I fell asleep counting the number of times I had counted the heads of the students that day.