Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Interesting Intercambio of Our Own

Perhaps Nick took lessons from our friend Lisa (I don't know, I am choosing not to look too deeply into this), but he searched Craigslist Buenos Aires for an intercambio. I thought it was weird that his ad said, ¨American hottie searching Argentine hottie for language exchange and more,¨ but I didn't want to nag.

Just kidding! In truth, we were looking for a cheap way to accelerate our espanol learning curve. With Cecilia on vacation for the past month, we haven't had our daily doses of practice aside from random grocery store interactions and at times making Leonor and Elsa patiently wait while we stumble through a broken sentence. So, Nick really did search Craigslist (he just didn´t mention in his search that he was an American hottie), and he ended up finding us a really amazing intercambio.

We arranged to meet our language partner in the afternoon last Thursday at Bar El Federal, our favorite bar thus far in San Telmo--a notable it is called, as it is a landmark and preserved in its 19th century style. Nick and I walked in and remembered that we didn't know who we were looking for. We saw a man sitting at a table for four all alone, looking about with a newspaper under his arm. It must be him. ¨Marco?¨ I asked him. He looked at me completely mystified. ¨No,¨ he finally said, without a hint of a smile. Yikes, okay, moving on.

Nick and I sat down at our own table, eagle-eye watching the door. Bingo. A man walked in alone, and made a beeline for us. ¨Marco!¨ I called out. He looked startled, and that's when I realized the beautiful girl sitting at the table right in front of us. I had obviously interrupted their much anticipated reunion. Oy. He only let me throw him off for a second before he threw himself to his awaiting beloved.

Nick and I just sat still for a minute, acknowledging that maybe we should stop--I should stop--trying to pinpoint every poor schmuck who walked into Bar El Federal as ¨Marco.¨ Luckily, not long after, a man walked up to us. This had to be Marco.

¨Marco?¨ I said sheepishly.

¨Hola,¨ he smiled back. Relief! Moving right along...The three of us got a table in the back that was quiet and where we wouldn't disturb anyone (I averted the eyes of all the fake Marco´s I had accosted before), and we began the Spanish chapter of our intercambio.

Three coffees and three brownies later (of which I had two because Marco said he wasn´t hungry), the three of us were comfortable and in the swing of some much-appreciated espanol. Marco kept it simple for us, asking us why we were in Argentina, how long we have been here, where we would like to travel to, and where we had been living in the States. We tested the waters with our Spanish, responding to every question, and then we ventured further and asked him about himself, such as why he is learning English. He told us that he is learning English because his girlfriend is American and does not speak much Spanish. His English is good, but of course, he wants to improve. We then asked what he did as a living, and he explained that he had just returned from Afghanistan, where he was working as an aid worker through an international organization.

Yes, Afghanistan. Three years in Kabul. Wow, now if that doesn't change you...This smiling, happy-go-lucky, jolly man across from us began to tell us incredible stories of his experiences--of being unable to leave the house for days, of Western women learning they they also can't leave the house without a headscarf if they want to be safe on the street, of doctors working as taxi drivers because the pay is more on the street than in the hospital, and of much more--a world that is unfathomably foreign to me. I was speechless. We switched to English so that Marco could practice, and the tales continued as Nick and I fired question after question at him.

His stories were mind-blowing. Literally. Two hours later, we said goodbye and thank you. Our intercambio had given us language lessons yes, and some very unexpected life lessons...Marco is someone I will never forget, and hope to meet again!

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