Learning, and losing (at the most inconvenient times), your Spanish

In Nicaragua, Michelle and I lived way up north, near Honduras. Managua, the country’s capital, is in the south, and a long way away, especially for hitchhikers.

That’s how everyone got around: standing on the shoulder, sticking out a finger (not your thumb–in Nicaragua, you point to where you want to go), waiting for a car to give us a ride. Drivers were generous. They packed their trucks with people, and didn’t charge them. Free rides.

We had to attend a meeting in Managua. It would take between six and ten hours to hitchhike there. We started at dawn, and figured to arrive just before sundown.

We were three hours away when the rides dried up. The Contra forces were in the area. People were going to their homes and shutting doors. No one was driving the roads.

We were in the middle of nowhere, worn out, and scared. The sun was setting. No cars. Just two gringos standing alongside the road.

A pickup came our way. We jumped up and down, waving our arms like two people on a stranded island. The man pulled over. He had a bunch of people in the back, but was happy to cram us in. For thirty córdobas (the Nicaraguan currency).

I was tired, scared shitless, and pissed off. my Spanish got all garbled. I rattled off a bunch of words: desperate we, war, Contras, lonely road bad, meeting have in Managua we, war zone, Contras! money–? Charge you us money for ride?!

He said “Calm down, sir, calm down. How much do you have?”

I dug a five-córdoba note out of my wallet, held it up, shook it and said “Five! I have five!”

Which should be Tengo cinco. Right? Cinco? That’s Spanish for five, right?

Something happened between my head and my mouth. I got the front and the back of cinco all wrong. I made the first a hard k, and the second into a z. 

“Kinzo! Tengo kinzo córdobas!”

He was confused. So I said it over and again, Kinzo! Kinzo! And the hell of it was, I knew I was saying it. Every time I tried to correct it, the word just got firmer, like a brick.

He told me to calm down, no worries, it’ll be all right.

“So, you’ll give us a ride? For Kinzo córdobas?”

“No, I just wanted you to calm down. You’ll get sick worrying like that.”

He drove off.

I’ve always hated capitalists. They leave me speechless.


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