This One Time in a Van Full of Men

It’s the embarrassing mishaps that make the best travel stories.

First, let me paint a quick picture of the teaching environment here. When I arrived, there was nothing. No books, no pencils, no learning tools, no teaching materials, no curriculum, no classroom. As you can imagine, there’s no store full of teaching supplies either. So for some materials, like Cuisenaire rods, it was easier and cheaper to have them replicated here by hand.

Except I had to explain how to make them, and an engineer I am not.

I tried my best to describe the blocks and provide dimensions for the workers, but they were still unsure about what I wanted, so I had to travel to the resort’s construction site in person to check out the wood they planned to use.

Honestly, I didn’t want to go. It takes at least an hour on crazy, bumpy, death-defying roads to get to the site. But then I remembered one important thing: Two hours in the car means two hours of air conditioning.

Unfortunately, I was unaware of another important thing: The woman taking me to the site — let’s call her S — learned to drive with the windows down and now she won’t drive with them up. So when she’s behind the wheel, the AC is off.


So after a mildly uncomfortable ride, we arrived at the site. I talked to a few people about the blocks. They showed me a piece of bamboo. I said, “Yeah, that should work,” as if I knew anything at all about making wooden blocks, and that was it. Then we sat around for more than an hour.

When it came time to leave, I was determined to ride home in the comfort of air conditioning. As luck would have it, there was plenty of room in the company van, so I abandoned S and took a seat with the engineers and such (all men) who work at the site. Then, as more luck would have it, S’s car wouldn’t start, so she joined me in the van.

As we were driving along, she asked me if I knew any other languages.

“Some French. Some Spanish. A little bit of Korean,” I replied.

“Oh, can you teach me Spanish?” she asked.

“Well,” I explained, “I don’t really know enough to teach you.”

I then went on to hypothesize that Spanish would be easy for her to pronounce because some of the sounds are similar to Bangla.

Like the rolled R. I told her that my cousin is from Mexico. Her name is Laura, which in Spanish, is pronounced Laora. You roll the R and combine it with an L sound. It took me forever to learn how to say her name correctly. It was surprisingly hard for S, too. We practiced it many times.

“Laorla. Laora. Lowra.”

“Laora. Laora. Laora.”

“Laora. Laora. Laora.”

Apparently the six men behind us in the van were amused by our pronunciation practice, but I didn’t notice.

I did notice when S received a text message and started laughing like crazy. I looked at her, confused and curious. Through her laughter she said, “I’ll tell you later.”

As we got closer to home, we dropped off the engineers one by one. When there were no more men in the van, she typed a word on her cell phone and showed it to me. “How would you say this?” she asked.

“Laora,” I answered.

She laughed again. “It means ‘whore’ in Bangla! Don’t say this word anymore!”

“Ah, good to know!” I replied, “I’ll tell my cousin she shouldn’t visit Bangladesh!”


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