Chapter 3: That First Class

(C) 2011 by Metta Anderson – All Rights Reserved

“I don’t know how many of us were in that reception area at first. It was crowded in part because of its smallness and also because it has a tiny cafeteria and everyone wanted coffee,” Grace continued. She had gone to her kitchen for a Coke and returned to her chair, working out in her mind how she wanted to explain what followed because it now seemed a little blurry. With the notebook in her lap, she jiggled the pen in her hand as she stared out the window across the room. “A few people were sitting at the two or three little tables next to the walls, but the rest of us just kind of milled around.

“The girls wore flats with stockings, the boys had ties and sports jackets and loafers. One girl did catch everyone’s attention (NOT ME!) but in a nice way. First because she’s tall (around 5’9”, I think), with long blond hair and big green eyes. The Swedish boy immediately spoke to her in Swedish and she smiled, looked sheepish and then shook her head. She explained in a kind of polished contralto that, while her parents were Swedes, they’d immigrated to America and so she only spoke English. She was sorry to have confused him. But before they could go beyond this point, the receptionist,  from her desk in the corner near the door, announced loudly that we would have to go upstairs for the meeting. (An introduction, more or less.) And please do not use the elevator as it doesn’t stop between the first (ground) and fifth floors.

“We discovered that the stairwell was ample and had a good guard rail, but was otherwise pretty dark and even creepy. Nothing was going to attack us, but seeing where we were going made our ascent kind of slow, especially after we (actually our toes) discovered broken edges and some kind of rubble on almost every step. In case of fire, we would have toasted.

“But also on the way, the American girl who confused the Swedish guy asked me who I was and where I was from and so we ended up sitting together kind of in the middle of everything when we got upstairs. Her name is Ellen Gunnar Olafson and she’s from upstate New York, the Finger Lakes region, I think she said. Near the place where they produce Great Western wines, she explained, although that really didn’t mean much to me. I’m just awful with geography! She’s sharing an apartment in a neighborhood that’s supposed to be very pretty–Teusaquillo–and her roommate is from Quebec. But they speak Spanish as the common “diplomatic” language. Ellen also has a boyfriend, a guy from Barranquilla who works for Chrysler Colmotores as an engineer. He speaks English and his name is Carlos. We’re going to try to get together next Friday or Saturday to go to someone’s house for a party.

“Back to the introduction. We were in a larger area, with better light, seated on metal folding chairs painted chocolate beige, facing a portable blackboard (“greenboard”). There were at least five classrooms opening off this one area, doors open and lights out. The rooms all seemed to have windows overlooking–I guessed–Carrera 7 on one side and Calle 19 on the other.

“An older (mid-forties?) American man named Charlie Gannan (accent on the second syllable) briskly took center stage and introduced himself. He was a little disheveled, but energetic and friendly and even funny as he talked about the institute, the classes and the general format. At the moment, my impression is that the institute’s methods go beyond the simple reading, writing and speaking to include a chart that lets the teacher show the students in which part of the mouth and throat the sounds are made. When I came home, I practiced making different sounds and realized that yes, they are formed in different places.

“At long last, Charlie ended the lecture to take questions. The mood of the whole group was very relaxed so there were a lot of jokes about how we’re supposed to learn to teach. (No one, as far as I know, has been a teacher before.) Charlie looked to the back of the room, pointed at someone and said, “Yes, you have a question. . .?”

Grace stopped. She could remember that moment so clearly, but could she get it down on paper? Instead of words she was seeing lines and symbols and stars and things all done in colored pencil all over the paper in her notebook. She hadn’t just heard a man’s voice, she had felt it, profoundly, something that had gone right through her and then set off waves of echoes, like the gong at the beginning of those British movies. How do you put that into words?

She sighed, wiggled her pen and frowned. Simple English, she decided, because otherwise it’d sound like a really bad Victorian novel. Or worse.

“It was that guy. The one I’d tried not to stare at in the cafeteria downstairs. I heard A voice and turned to my left, and then over my shoulder because he was almost at the back of the room, standing next to the wall. He asked a question, very politely, with the most incredible voice! Like velvet or chocolate or something very smooth and covering

“Oops! Shit! Victoria got me that time! Try again–

“This very handsome man with a fabulous voice was at the back of the room. I saw him. I heard him.

“And then I elbowed Ellen on my left with such force she almost fell off her chair as I muttered involuntarily, “I want that!”

“And the “that” was, it turned out, Julian.

“He does have a full name, which is Julian Fernando (his mother’s uncle who didn’t have sons) Pardo S. (for Samper, his mother’s maiden name). He’s just turned 22 in August and he studies at Los Andes. And that’s all I know about him right now.”

Abruptly Grace put the pen and notebook on the floor, stood up and went into the bathroom. Okay, she’d done it. She wrote it down without getting gooey or mushy or anything like that. But maybe it was too brusque, too cold? She looked around the bathroom as if she didn’t know why she was there and then stared at her reflexion in the mirror above the sink. Who was she? Who was this young woman who had for the very first time ever written down her own personal reaction to just seeing a young man and hearing his voice?

She leaned back a little to change the angle of the light from the window on her right as it struck her face. The shadow along the side of her nose seemed a little dark; maybe she should turn on the light? It was kind of a shame she couldn’t take the bathroom with her when she went out because it was very flattering. Grace was of medium height by American standards (5’6″), but tall by Colombian ones. Her dark brown but silky fine hair had nice waves and in some lights looked dark chestnut. Until she came to Colombia her pale skin was identical to about 75% or more of the kids at her high school and in her college classes. She was from the Midwest. Everyone’s white there. But in Colombia, where olive, copper and black skin tones were the rule, she realized she stood out, and wasn’t sure if that was a good thing. She didn’t really want to stand out, at least not all the time. On the other hand, no one seemed to dislike her for being tall with pale skin and dark blue eyes. In fact, she was complimented for having these features, which was a huge difference to being at home in East Lansing. She had very few friends there, and her girlfriends were pretty and smart, but she always felt that she was a target of some kind there, but not in Bogotá.

She leaned close to the mirror to make sure her skin without makeup was as flawless as possible, with not a zit to be seen. One or two little eyebrow hairs to pluck, but that was it.

She straightened up. Yeah, fine, but–the big question–was she pretty enough for Julian? She wanted him and, frankly, no one was going to get in her way. Not even Ellen, her new friend. Anyway, she had a boyfriend, who was a really nice guy with a great sense of humor, but it was not Grace’s fault that the barranquillero didn’t have whatever it was that Julian had.

She sighed. This is getting pointless, she thought. I’ll finish what I was writing and then go downstairs to Eileen’s.

“I got that little bit about Julian from Ellen and by eavesdropping. All the other girls want him, too. Some bouncy little thing from Des Moines talked to him after the first lecture and then gushed to a couple of friends the few details she picked up. Of course, he did not pick her up later, so I guess he isn’t attracted to the cheerleader type. (Hooray!)

“Anyway, after the questions, we were given some materials to look over and the training schedule, which began two days later at 8 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING!!!!!! Even now I’m not sure how I managed to get there before 8:30. I’ve never been a morning person (ask any of my high school teachers!), and whatever Charlie would say in class didn’t register in my head. But I looked nice, and that’s about all that mattered at 7:30.

“There’s a break during the sessions and we all go downstairs to the cafeteria for coffee or tea or soft drinks, plus the most delicious toasted cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had!!!!! I’m trying to figure out how to make them, and apparently it’s important to have this gizmo that holds the sandwich over the heat with long metal handles. (You wrap a towel around the handles to keep from burning your hands.) But they also have small packs of crackers and cookies and individually wrapped slices of cake. The cakes are another item that everyone wants. They’re made by the same company and, Louise told me, are simply pound cakes cut into little slices before packaged in cellophane. But WOW! are they GOOD!!!

One is called “Chocoramo,” and it’s a slice of vanilla pound cake covered all over with a thin layer of chocolate frosting. It goes with absolutely everything! The other cake slices are flavored but have no frosting–vanilla flavor, lemon flavor, a wine flavor, and a marble cake type called “chocolate,” even though it’s not chocolate in the American sense. Tastes delicious, though! You can buy these things all over the place and I think their US price would be a nickel, at most. I love them, but I don’t eat them every day because I know they’d make me fat in no time.” 

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