Friday, January 25, 2008

What the hell is a chongo, anyway?

So, the Lord works in mysterious ways... Although this has been, unquestionably, the most difficult season of my life, there are many things for which I am grateful. One is that, in the eighth grade my parents forced me to take Spanish instead of German. (Okay Mom, it's acknowledged, there is no need to bring this up the next time I call home.)

As you may or may not know, most of my students are Hispanic and many of them are bilingual or learning English. Additionally, a cursory knowledge of Spanish helps get "in" with a lot of other people at the school (who it helps to like me), like the custodians (who don't get as angry when my kids make ridiculous messes, projectile vomit all over the classroom-it's happened, or grind playdoh in the carpet), the lunch ladies (who let me pay them back when I don't have money) and the aides (who can help get me stuff). Additionally, it helps me clarify for my student who knows very little English. (And I know a lot of the curse words, so I know if they're potty mouths in Spanish- which they're surprisingly not, the F word is sufficient, I suppose).

I can say:
"No tocas otros ninos."- Don't touch other children.
"Manos a tu propia persona."- Keep your hands to yourself.
"Puedes ver tu mami despues de la escuela."- You can see your mommy after school.
"Sientese a la alfombra."- Sit on the carpet.
"No mientes a mi."- Do not lie to me.
"Ojos a mi."- Eyes on me.
"Que es el problema?"- What is the problem?
"Porque estas llorando?"- Why are you crying?
And other useful phrases.

But I'm learning Spanish like I never did when I minored in it in college. A lot of them speak in sort of Spanglish slang and there are things that they just don't have the English word for.

At the beginning of the year, it helped when they were constantly code switching between English and Spanish. I knew what Jos meant when he said, "Miss! Miss! No puedo tie mis zapatos." ("I can't tie my shoes.") and "He has mucha!" ("He has a lot!")

For example, they use the word "pica" for just about everything. Now, I knew what they meant when Mi brought lime potato chips and they kept telling me that they were very "pica" or spicy/tangy/flavorful. And I know that they use "pica" to refer to sharp things like staples and push pins. But when Mi told me that she had a "pica" on her foot, I had no idea what she meant. I still don't.

Oh and piojos. Let me tell you, on my next resume, I ought to put that I am expert in piojos. I can detect those little suckers like it's my job. At the beginning of the year, I had never even seen one before (my mother drove the fear in me from a young age), now I can spot them from a mile away. You see, piojos are lice (more specifically the eggs, but lice nonetheless). For example, today when I checked her hair, M informed me, "I don't got no piojos no more." Which wasn't exactly true. My classroom is a piojo infestation site. They are the reason why I NEVER wear my hair down. If I do, there are suddenly little hands wending their way in and let me tell you I will NOT get lice. I have way too much hair for that business.

And then there was the chongo. The chongo was probably my first introduction into this slang business. It took me forever to figure out what a chongo was. Probably close to a month and a half. And they talked about chongos all the time. Chongos were a huge source of conflict in the classroom. Someone was always taking someone else's chongo and then there was tattling and since I didn't know what it was, I couldn't really fix the problem other than to say, "Give back the chongo." And of course, the chongo culprit was invariably my token white child who clearly had no clue what a chongo was, either. It turns out that a chongo is a ponytail holder. It can refer to just about anything that goes in your hair, but specifically, it's what holds your "little colita."

Oh the new skills that I have acquired this year...

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