Friday, May 15, 2015

An Architect, A Lawyer and a Travel Agent Walk Into a Bar....

An architect, a lawyer and a travel agent walk into a bar… how language brings us together.

Majestic Colonial, Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It’s hot, Caribbean hot.  Salsa music is blaring, kids are jumping in and out of the very large pool, the blenders are non stop blending Pina Coladas and Margaritas… the typical location for a Spanish lesson at an all inclusive resort.  Several announcements are made over the loud speaker encouraging attendance. After a few minutes, it’s obvious the class will be two; another guest and myself.

The class is offered by the resort Activities department. Sporting a head full of corn rows mirrored shades my instructor ‘J’ leads us from the hot pool edge to the shaded dimness of the pool’s wet bar. We grab seats at one of the tables and begin. Clad in t-shirt with the resort logo and matching shorts, ‘J’ appears to be about 25.  My fellow student, ‘D’ about the same. I am definitely the senior of the group.  ‘J’ informs me ‘D’ attended the previous day’s class.

The lesson begins with the normal ‘good morning’ and ‘thank you’. After a few minutes it becomes apparent that both ‘D’ and I are way past remedial Spanish.  ‘J’ is now speaking in Spanish to both of us and with some stops and starts we are following and able to contribute. This leads inevitably to ‘how many languages do you speak’. In this group I am the beginner with my conversational Spanish and very basic Italian, both leave me in the language dust.  ‘D’ and ‘J’ both speak at least six languages, they have a lively exchange in Russian. ‘J’ explains that with the recent influx of Russian guests, the resort needed someone to speak the language, so management sent him to an intensive 3 month Russian course. That’s when the class shifts to something different and so much deeper. ‘J’ who at first glance is seems to be a 25 year old beach bum, is a 30 year old university graduate and practicing architect,  speaking no less than six languages. ‘D’s’ blonde side swept locks and baby face, masks a 33 year old corporate lawyer from Kiev, Ukraine. Switching back to English, ‘D’ remarks that Russian language, in fact Russian culture, is based in arrogance, and the Russian hotel guests that ‘J’ is now converses with must be the same.     I am mentally absorbing these amazing facts (and giving myself an internal lecture about judging a book by the cover) when J’ begins to explain how an architect is running fitness classes, kicking soccer balls with 10 year- olds and teaching Spanish in a pool bar.

“I was bored”.  Pushing up the aviator sunglasses, ‘J’s brown eyes are thoughtful.  “My uncle owns a firm here in the Dominican Republic, the plan was always for me to work for him. After I graduated, I sat in a cubicle, designing mansions and large resorts like this one…60 hours a week plus inside, while life when on outside. All I have ever wanted to do is dance.  During the day I run activity programs, but at night, I dance! I perform in all the shows. My uncle only speaks Spanish, so I still am responsible for English and French clients, but this is my passion”.   This amazing statement is followed by “Law is incredibly boring, that is why I am not practicing right now. I need to find what I too have a passion for”, ‘D’ chimes in.

‘J’ checks his watch and immediately stands up, says  goodbye and is gone, class is over. To boogie at night, ‘J’ runs Activities programs by day. The spell broken, ‘D’ and I gather our class notes and drift back to our respective families and loungers on the beach. I find my mother asleep on the opposite lounger, so I reapply my 70 sunscreen. As I do, I start to think about my own circumstances. How just five years ago if you would have told the lumber company marketing representative in the beige cubicle that I would not only break free of that cubicle just 15 miles from my home, but I would make my living as travel professional. Plying my craft not in a cubicle in Michigan, but all over the world… including a Punta Cana pool bar.