Breaking barriers abroad
“Con su tricky, tricky, tra! Entiendes chiquita?”
No, not at all! I thought. I shrugged my shoulders and gave a small smile. “Un poco” I admitted.
I am in Alajuela, Costa Rica meeting my closest friend’s family. All 10 of his cousins sit crammed around the small wooden table in his abuela’s cozy house on Calle Loria playing games. The tantalizing aroma of rice mixed with spices cooking in the cast iron pot waft in from the kitchen. The aunts are making a feast, their swift chatter can be heard all through the casa.
Tia Flory continuously comes out of the small kitchen offering “cafecito” to the gathering crowd. The sun is setting outside over the sugar cane field across the dirt road. There is no glass on the windows, only three metal bars remain allowing the light breeze to pass through the house, bringing comfort from the fading sun. A stray cat christened, Luisito squeezes in through the hole in the front gate. He purrs and nuzzles each of the family members until he finds Abuela, who bends down, affectionately scratches behind his ears, and offers him a small sliver of meat.
I can hear the pan sizzling in the kitchen as the food is placed in it, my mouth is watering. Suddenly, I’m brought back. “Ok, listo?” one of the cousins says. And in one swift motion, she begins passing the cup around the circle with skilled purpose as she chants the song. My stomach is in knots, how am I going to manage this one?
I am in a different place and a different culture. Aside, from a few years of Spanish in high school and college, I don’t have much experience speaking the language. For the most part, I understand what is being said, but I am in desperate need of more practice.
“Tricky tricky tra” was explained and the inside of my head was playing volleyball. I heard the words and quickly tried to serve over the English translation in my head. However, I couldn’t keep up and I was falling behind.Yet, I smiled and kept nodding, watching the demonstration before me. Basically, the game was to sing a song while passing a cup around the circle. When the song ended the cups would be tapped against the table once and then the cycle would begin again. During the next song cycle, the cups would be tapped two times against the table. With each additional cycle, the number of taps would increase. Whoever messed up first had to take a shot of Agua de Pipa (fresh coconut juice.)
Anxiously, I peered around me.I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of all these people. Everyone was watching, to see if the “macha” (an affection term used to describe a blonde, white girl) could figure it out.
So what did I do?
I took a deep breath and stopped worrying about messing up. I watched as the cups began to be passed around me. Quietly, and cautiously, I began singing the song along with the others. I figured out how to bounce my own cup, pass it, and collect the next one, without pausing or messing the song up. I forgot my insecurities, let myself be in the moment, and had fun.
“Eso!” We finished all at once, laughing, as the food was served.
We all came together, joined hands, and a prayer was said. Then we broke apart and began loading our plates with rice, beans, platanos, cabbage salad, and thinly sliced steak cooked with garlic, cilantro, and onion. I sat between cousin Fernanda and cousin Cinthia. They praised me for playing the game and continuously patted my arm, or touched my hair throughout the meal. It was a sign of affection and appreciation that I welcomed warmly.
Gathered together eating the scrumptious meal I couldn’t stop smiling. Who cared if my Spanish wasn’t perfect? It was the effort that became appreciated. It was then that I realized how breaking cultural and language barriers was really very simple. Especially, if you stop worrying about being judged and simply let yourself have fun.