Thursday, June 11, 2009

< Insert Dylan Thomas reference Here >

So as I settle into what I’m fast realizing is finals month (as opposed to the traditional finals week), I feel like it’s almost time to sit back and take stock of my astounding progress in el español. It should be a time for positive encouragement to propel me on to the end of the semester. It should be a time for secret self-congratulations because, after all, I’ve made it through four whole months of classes in a foreign language. I suppose it could be a time for minor stress and anxiety about taking finals and finishing final papers in a foreign language. But it really shouldn’t be a time for plummeting-gut, dry throat panic attacks (which, surprisingly are similar to that feeling I got yesterday after watching an epically intense movie. Perhaps that indicates that my experience here has been epically intense?) that grab hold and shake you like a wooden roller coaster. Picture red and blue spiny demons with claws, fangs and spikes, and giant evil eyes, obviously artistically rendered in a comic book style standing on my chest with their long fingers wrapped around my neck, shaking my head like a giant mosh-pit without the fun. I mean, at least that’s how I picture them…

Sorry. Where was I?

Oh yes. See I have this professor. He’s Haitian and a visiting professor which means that he doesn’t know much about the way things are generally done here. It also means that he speaks with an awesome accent that I can barely understand. He’s imposingly tall with an unnerving way of stalking through the rows of students and occasionally stopping to tower over someone and pose a question that the poor sap he’s standing over feels compelled to answer even though it was posed generally. His emphasis oscillates between deafening and almost inaudible and sometimes I think he’s just talking to himself. It’s generally a fun class. I haven’t the faintest idea what we’re learning about because sometimes we talk about the CARICOM and the OEA (which is apparently the “Organization of American States”) and sometimes we talk about Haiti and voodoo. I can honestly swear that I pay more attention in that class than I did in all of my MCB (molecular and cellular biology) lectures combined during the spring of 2008. And yet I’m always startled bright red when suddenly he’s talking directly to me and we’re talking about the word “hub?” Or he’s really interested in my opinion but for the life of me I can’t figure out what the question was, I’m still taking notes on what he was saying two minutes ago.

And then today he drew a diagram on the board and it all made sense. You see, his diagrams are a general source of mirth for the class. I have attempted to re-create it in Paint and, to fully understand it, you should know that I’m DAMN good with Paint. This is an actual and very reasonable facsimile of the diagram that was scrawled on the whiteboard earlier today.

(Profe: “Hmm… not sure why this one looks like an “8”…. This one down here, it’s probably Africa because it’s big, yes, Africa is big, and these little lines over here, they look like the Caribbean, right? I suppose these are the Caribbean…” True story.)
You see, we were discussing the 4 major poles of attraction (powers) of the world and then the peripheries. (Yes, that is what I am learning in a foreign language in which I can barely carry on a basic discussion of my day.) Obviously, the labeled blobs are the 4 poles (US, Europe, Asia and the Arabic world, which I can’t for the life of me figure out a better translation of) and all of the specks and lines and un-labeled blobs are periphery countries that are attracted to these poles for different reasons. One hopes.
And even after the rest of the class’s laughter had died down, I was still smothering uncontrollable giggles. Suddenly, it was all absurdly clear. The diagram was, in fact, a diagram of my experience in the class. You see, the labeled blobs represent the main ideas of the day’s lecture which are always written out in the syllabus or made explicit at the beginning of the class. Then there are the things that I assume I can label.
Considering that we are discussing CARICOM today and I’m pretty sure he just said “does not belong” I’m going to assume that we’re talking about Cuba. Sound assumption, if I do say so myself. He’s probably talking about international relations right now. Something about NAFTA? I’ll mark that down with an asterisk so that I remember to look it up later and maybe make a connection. And now I suppose he’s talking about integration again? Hopefully?
And then again there are all the little dots and specks which go straight over my head and I have no hope of understanding. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they are just words and that I’m able to hold onto the big idea blobs. Which is absurd right? It’s downright hilarious. At least, apparently I thought so…
I guess we’ll see… three weeks and counting!

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