Monday, March 19, 2012

Around the World in Baltimore

March 8

It was a weekend of accents, languages, beautiful women from Russia and smooth talkers from South America. It was a weekend of making connections, that spun out from our minds and fingers as we shook hands in the hotel lobby, or the fancy elevator with a clear glass ceiling (“always makes me feel like superman!” a girl from Sweden said), or in some windy street of Baltimore.

From more than70 different countries, we all bonded over our majors, similarities in languages (so many Spanish speakers and so many Arabic speakers; everyone knew how to talk in English but if you met someone who knew your language, you were determined to exhaust your language’s vocabulary), and our exasperation with Americans using Fahrenheit for weather temperatures while everyone else, from Portugal to Bangladesh, felt hot and cold in Celsius. Everywhere else it is football but in America it must be soccer. And no, it is not a world series if the only country that is playing is yours – and sometimes Canada. Maybe “the North American Series” would be more accurate. Get off your high pedestal and look down at the poverty, inequality, racism, school shootings, teen pregnancies churning at your feet!

“And what is up with girls exclaiming “that’s so funny” with a deadpan face?” said a tall German who was studying computer sciences and not happy with the social aptitudes of his classmates. “If it’s so funny, why the fuck don’t you just laugh like everyone else does?”

“And what is up with peppering ‘like’ all over your conversation as if you have some kind of verbal disorder?” a girl from Jordan was not happy with the linguistic abilities of her Californian fellows either.

Everybody had an accent, some so lovely you could just listen to the sound and not take in any of the words. And then there were those moments when somebody would struggle to remember the right English word or the most accurate translation for something that would just lean back into a dusty gray corner of the brain, while neurons would struggle to reach at it in vain. “I just can’t remember the word for it in English!” people from different continents would all say and scrunch up their faces.

“What’s that?” the sweet guy from Germany would say all the time.

“Like the song! Aisha, Aisha…” all the Russians would say when I told them my name.

“Hit me baby, one more time!” everyone would sing along to Britney Spears in that strange club.

Baltimore was amazing - from conversations about friends with a girl from Spain to discussing the merits of starting one’s own NGO with a Russian you came across in the elevator, to the Portuguese you sat next to on the gigantic tour bus who found it hard to concentrate and loved theater, to the girl who (I never found out where she was from) taught me the basics of Latin dancing, the guy who reminded me of Johnny Depp who had too much wine the night before, to wondering why Americans have so many pets that they treat like their children with a guy from Rwanda. I hope the Indonesian boy’s roommate troubles worked out, and I hope I can visit the lady in Budapest someday.

The crab cakes, the rainy evenings, the three-course meals, the soft white cloudlike bed that would always be made when I came back to the room at the end of the day, finding out about El Salvador cuisine, German perspective on religion, Jordanian politics, the dinner with our host family over salmon, soup, and chocolate fudge.

And did you know that Latino/as sometimes point with their lips?

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