Saturday, April 7, 2012

Vagando por acá

Words, language, even grammar, to a point, shape meaning and quality of speech more than we know, or notice. I recently offered my love hate intrigue with Quechua as a case in point, and surely more accomplished linguists could bring out many more (gendered objects, just off the top of my head). This difference slightly justifies the terrible habit many volunteers fall into, that of speaking Spanglish. In any given sentence, nouns, verbs and adjectives may be borrowed from Spanish, warped into some bastardized form (quedar-ed, invitar-ed, shami-ed). My first encounters with this habit were in training, and found them pretentious and infuriating. Two and a half years later, I find it nearly impossible to translate some terms, and others slip out in Spanish without me even noticing.

Not to hate on my native tongue, but some things do sound better in Spanish.

One such word is “vagar” or, as we say it here, “bagar.” It means to laze about and I believe it shares a root with vagabond. In a sentence: “Qué haces?” “Vagando por acá, no más.” It´s definitely derogatory— like, I make fun of my friend who is a taxi driver by saying he is just “vagando” (Lazing about) at the taxi station all day.

Without knowing the term, I have been champion vaga for most of my life. Give me a novel and sofa in a quiet space and I can be content for hours. Here, of course, things are different. For starters, there are no couches in Musho and even novels are in short supply (though I can get my fix every couple weeks in Huaraz). More to the point, though (because in pinch, I can reread a book and make myself comfortable against a tree, rock, abandoned house or gravestone

(depending on which of my favorite spots I´m in), is the attitude here to leisure time. It hardly exists. “Hobbies” are rare, especially for women. Men might play soccer and women might knit—also in one neighborhood the women play volleyball sometimes—but in general, if someone isn´t working, there isn´t a lot to do.

My host mom, if she isn´t working in the fields, cooking, eating, or washing clothes, sits. She doesn´t even really like watching TV. I will say two things and hope not to sound judgmental—it´s not my intention. First, that Editha works so hard that she probably desperately needs rest in her off moments, not more stimulation. Also, this makes for much more of a sense of family in community. You see, in the evening, if Editha isn´t desperately working still, the only thing she´ll do is talk to me, her parents, or, if she wants to make the 20-minute walk, her in-laws. This dependence on others is completely contrary to my own attitude: “What, we´ve just been sitting at the dinner table for an hour and a half!?! You mean, you want to keep talking to me??? No, it´s reading my book time”

This is what people find incomprehensible about me: that I would rather sit, reading a book, alone, than be with other people. All day long (mostly in the afternoons), neighbors and friends will call out to me: “Takushun!!” (We should sit). I rarely accept. If I´m not actually heading to do visits or a meeting or other work-related activity, I would rather sit, solita (alone), reading a book, or walk, solita, exploring these gorgeous mountains. So what am I saying? That my style of vagando reflects some deep need for solitude? Rather, that it might reflect something about our different cultures, individual versus collective.

As I spend more and more time alone here—not intentionally, but by being left in the house—I am appreciating more and more other people. Slowly, I´m learning. On Sunday, I sat in a drizzle with a Quechua grandma and her dog for half an hour, trying to understand a few stories about the dangers of local snakes (the superstition is that if one enters in your house, someone is going to move or die, blech). Yesterday evening I sat in the plaza for an hour with a friend, watching everyone getting ready for Wednesday´s market. Perhaps one of the things I need to learn before leaving Peru is to develop my cross-cultural vagando skills.

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