I was getting some clothes together last night to pack for a trip I'm taking. My sister was helping me. I took out a white cotton button-up shirt with quaint details and showed it to her.
"This would look great with a sombrero," I told her.
"Excellent," she replied.
I threw the shirt in the pile of shirts I'd already picked out for my trip.
I am going to Mexico, and I plan on coming home with a sombrero along with a better understanding of a lot of things.
Mexico for one, Spanish for another, and life's little quirks for another another.
This is a very special trip. I've invested in a digital voice recorder, an electronic Spanish-English translator, a Spanish-English dictionary, a Spanish conversation quick-reference card, sunscreen, sunglasses that look like something out of the movie, The Mexican... I've even been watching movies set in Mexico to get into the mood, ranging from The Mexican, to One-Eyed Jacks.
I'm basically going through Mexico-mania, reading up on the history of the places I'll be visiting and trying to tentatively plan an itinerary, even though I plan to be somewhat spontaneous.
I want to remember everything about this trip. Enough to write a book, really, but it's hardly going to be a book just about Mexico, or any other place I visit and write about. What I'm taking with me and bringing back are so much more than just a travelogue about the best eateries and hotels.
What makes this trip to Mexico so special isn't just the fact that it's my first time in Viva Zapata! country. It's not just the fact that it's my first trip to a foreign place as an adult, able to communicate on my own and appreciate the culture and differences. It's not just the fact that I'll be visiting what is dubbed as "the most Mexican city", Guadalajara; or the place where Tennessee Williams' movie version of Night of the Iguana was filmed, Puerto Vallarta; or the ruins in Zacatecas.
What makes this trip so special is my travel companion. My travel companion is someone I see everyday, whom I sometimes take for granted and fail to spend enough time getting to truly know. My travel companion is someone I easily get annoyed with, and constantly butt heads with to prove myself. My travel companion is someone I love dearly, but often can only handle in tiny doses. My travel companion is someone I am dreading spending ten days in Mexico with. My travel companion is someone I'm looking forward to getting to know while ordering special de hoy, entirely en Espanol. My travel companion is someone I resemble in so many ways, it scares me sometimes. My travel companion is someone who has taught me to be the tough, yet soft cookie that I am. My travel companion is someone who has taught me how to be hard, sensitive, shy, outgoing, curious, suspicious, thorough, open-minded, analytical and kind.
My travel companion is my father.
I am looking forward to this trip to Mexico with my father for several reasons.
For one thing, I'm not gonna have to butt heads with him to prove myself, because I'll be the one doing most of the communicating in Spanish. Also, being the one reading the guidebooks and making itinerary preparations, perhaps I'll show my Dad as good a time as he used to show the family back when we used to be world travelers. Perhaps during this trip, I'll get to show my Dad how great a job in raising me he did. Perhaps our similarities will make us bond and see how cool we really are, instead of annoy each other with our stubbornness, and other things perceived as faults at any other time.
This trip is going to be a learning experience for both of us about each other, as everyday life makes it difficult to see the things that truly matter in life... that family is the best source of love and identity anyone could ever wish for.
My friend upon hearing about my trip to Mexico said, "You're lucky." She meant that I was lucky that I am going to Mexico for ten days, but that's only a tiny reason why I'm lucky...
I'm lucky because I have a father I'm getting a chance to bond with as a mature woman, while picking out what color sombrero would bring out my eyes best.
Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.
ABOUT REEM AL-OMARI
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
8.12.07 @ 3:11a
Soy envidioso. Mi padre nació y fue criado en Guadalara. No nos relacionamos bien hasta posterior adentro vida, pero amaría ahora ir allí con él. Usted es muy afortunado y savor el viaje.
Una otra cosa. Zapata era un socialista crypto-fascista y es sumamente sobre-clasificado. ¡Paz!
8.12.07 @ 3:26a
In the spirit of multiculturism (i.e. for those of you dullards that haven't studied Spanish because you STILL don't get the fact that we are taking this place over), I'll translate:
I'm envious. My father grew up in Guadalajara, and although we didn't get along well until later in life, I would love the chance to go there with him. You are lucky and savor the journey.
P.S. Zapata was a crypto-fascist socialist and is vastly over-rated.
8.12.07 @ 4:37p
Guadalajara was beautiful. My experiences there were beautiful, and I hope that you can go if you haven't gone already.
It was hard being with my father 24/7 the first few days, but things really improved and we both had a blast, despite the many snags we hit, including me busting the $400 digital camera like a window with a baseball. Oops.
Anyway, Mexico is a place I've fallen in love with, and the trip is one I will always remember in the fondest way.
I plan on learning Spanish, because just traveller's Spanish just doesn't cut it as I found out the hard way!
8.12.07 @ 10:46p
Reem, this column hits me because I'm a total Daddy's girl. However, as much as I love my dad to pieces, traveling with my dad wouldn't necessarily be a beautiful soul journey- it would be golf resorts and a search for white rice.
Y estoy envidiasa! Espero que puedo viajar a Mexico- y Alemania, Irlanda, y Cuba tambien.
Dan- estudié español por siete años, pero no lo hablé en diez. Cuando me trasladé a Nueva York, comencé a hablar español. Cuando tengo tiempo, practico con mis compañeros de trabajo. (Ellos intentaron enseñarme las palabras malas, pero los conozco!)
And to be multi-cultural too:
I'm also jealous! I hope I can travel to Mexico- and Germany, Ireland, and Cuba too.
I studied Spanish for seven years, but haven't spoken it in ten. When I moved to NY, I started speaking Spanish again. When I have time, I practice with my coworkers. (They tried teaching me the bad words, but I know them!)
8.13.07 @ 1:42p
I hope to be "a fuckin' world travella'".
I speak Arabic other than English fluently. Last year I got obssessed with Portuguese and actually started teaching myself Portuguese. I did pretty well, but there's only so much I can do on my own. I did about 4 years of French in school, but that didn't amount to much more than basic conversation at a very slow speed. Spanish I tried for a year, and know just enough for basic communication, but need much more to get to half of where you guys are! I'm jealous! I want to speak like 7 languages fluently before I die... 2 down... 5 to go.
8.13.07 @ 1:51p
I speak Spanish easily (but not fluently- not yet) because part of my heritage is Latin, and my mom grew up speaking it in her family. I figure fluency depends on how often you use a language. While I lived in the Philippines, my Tagalog became pretty good- and these days, I struggle to remember what I used to say. English is my only fluent language, while Spanish and Tagalog are decent second languages.
Oh, and I also think you'll remember what you learned far more if you fuck around with it and learn imaginatively. My Spanish is back up after a year of purposely practicing with my Peruvian, Puerto Rican, and Colombian coworkers- who have been more than happy to have funny, day-to-day conversations with me. During one memorable, I asked how to call someone a crack whore- and we had waaay too much fun repeating "puta craquera".
If there's something I'm super-annoyed at, it's that I used to know some Mandarin when I was 6- one of the Catholic schools I went to was run by Chinese nuns, so they taught Chinese. If I knew how to speak it these days, that skill would be GOLD.
8.13.07 @ 2:11p
English is by far my best language. I definitely couldn't write at a level higher than 5th grade in Arabic, but I speak it well enough... not enough to hold a discussion panel concerning scholarly journals or anything, but with regular conversation, I'd have no trouble at all in pretty much all dialects.
8.13.07 @ 2:14p
Another friend of mine told me that true fluency is determined by whether you can DREAM in another language. So right there, that's English. (But I can say "thank you" in about 14 languages. THAT makes me feel very smart).
8.13.07 @ 2:45p
When I went on a trip to Europe in high school, my roommates reported that I talked in my sleep in the language/accent of whatever country we were in at the time. I felt good about it, although it drove them a little bit crazy.
I didn't realize how rusty my Spanish was when we went to Peru a couple of years ago -- couldn't remember the word for "ice", which was a real problem when I wanted to ask for my drinks without ice. But within a few days, I was up and running.
My husband, who doesn't even speak Spanish, was able to get by in Peru mostly by speaking Italian and then listening to how he was corrected. He's a language whiz, though.
8.13.07 @ 3:03p
While in Mexico, I spoke very broken-up Spanish a lot of very basic, and sometimes broken-up Spanish that somehow got my point across... and the rest of the time when there were no English speakers around to help us out, we used sign language. I felt like a monkey a few times, but it was either that, or starve, or stay lost. Sometimes my Dad would start going off in French, which produced the same blank look that English did... we really struggled with the language.
8.14.07 @ 9:45a
Jael, if I were one of your roommates, I probably would have woken up feeling like I was in a Fellini movie. Especially if I were in Italy.
I'm actually lucky I've got some ease with Spanish because Tagalog has Spanish elements/pronunciation. I've heard the accent all my life, so learning/remembering the language was easy. Learning French, however, was more difficult. Even though there are similar words to Spanish, I made more progress in learning the it from French friends than I did in a 3 month class. (And learning German? Wooh, not easy!)
8.14.07 @ 11:12a
How excited was Jael to actually use "my husband" in conversation.
8.14.07 @ 11:25a
Geez, I feel like the whitest guy on earth. After a year of high school German and a semester in college all I know anymore is Ich bin ein Fenster. (But get this - I can order dinner in Turkish.)
8.14.07 @ 11:51a
That's pretty impressive to be able to order dinner in Turkish.