Huanchaco, Trujillo, Peru
I paced, sweaty in front of the class. 30 rowdy Peruvian 10-year-olds not paying attention.
Hola! Soy Dany. My name is Dany. Soy un Norte Americano, de Nueva Jork. I’m from North America, from New York. Tu sabes Nueva Jork? Do you know New York?
Tengo un pregunta. I have a question for you. What… is your name?
Blank stares. A spitball arcs, wet, through the air. Classic.
What is your NAME?
I don’t exist.
What… (Smile) is your… (raised, suspicious eyebrow) NAAAAAME?
Three hands raise like tall grass.
Come ON! Como te llamas?
Is this a joke? M sees my face and intervenes with a quick “Dan, don’t be a dick” face.
Como te LLAMAS?
Arms shoot up. I’m teaching English by asking them questions in Spanish. Great.
I ask them one-by-one what their name is in English. I say nice to meet you. They smile because they don’t realize how far back their lack of English is putting them. I rant in my own mind. I convince myself I don’t think this way because I’m a dick from North America.
Manuel told us to meet outside on the cement playground where students pay fifty cents for a hand-sized styrofoam plate of spaghetti, fish and a plastic fork. A crew of boys approached nervously, like a dog approaches a picnic. They circled around us. M talked with them in rapid Spanish.
M, to me: Do you understand?
M: They’re asking what fuck means. They saw it on the Internet.
The boys perked up when they heard her say fuck to me. They stepped in closer, tightening the circle.
What did you tell them?
M: Nothing. I’m not going to tell them. They’ll run off telling everyone I told them what fuck means.
What do you think it means?
M: I don’t know… (her face stayed but her eyes darted over to mine).
Fuck is everything. How can you explain everything?
The closest boy heard me but didn’t understand.
I looked at them, finally.
Rough. Cool. Eating ice cream on sticks. One, cleaner, one with a few shirt stains. A tougher face, a leader. A standard group of boys from anywhere. All we want is to swear and break things. Which one was me?
The leader finished his ice cream as I fished through the hundred Spanish words I knew for ways to explain what fuck means. He threw his popsicle stick in the dirt.
M put her face near his and barked in Spanish. He picked it up, walked towards the garbage until he thought we weren’t paying attention, and threw it in the dirt.
I didn’t care enough to tell him.