Friday, January 11, 2008

roberto dibininost

because something lady macleod said in one of her posts reminded me of this...

i had been in country about two months, living in padua with three other yanks, when i got moved to another town in el campo named san antonio de areco.

my castillian was still limited to simple answers to simple questions: i have one brother and one sister (which i once answered to the question, "how are you liking the area?"), i am 19 years old, the food was really good (or once, following what my companion said word for word, "this crap is really good" the mami i told it to laughed uproariously, having heard this old joke many times before), and requests for water and the bathroom.

despite a language barrier, i managed to negotiate the bus for the three-hour ride i had ahead of me.

the last stop was san antonio de areco, which made that part very simple. the bus driver dropped me off right at the main plaza, in front of town hall, and i simply had to figure out where the missionaries lived.

that, however, was not going to be an easy task. so i bought an alfajor at the kiosko at the corner, and as my luck would have it, the proprietor was a young lady of about 18 years, just the kind of person that would probably know exactly where the young, well-dressed yanquis lived.

as she gave me the directions, i began to keep a mental tally of the blocks. our casa was about 13 blocks from where i was standing, and with a large duffle, a suitcase, and two carry-ons, it was going to be a hell of a long walk. i hadn't seen any taxis, or buses (and even if i had, i had no idea what the routes were, and therefore would be unable to figure out which would take me where i needed to be), and having already spent two months doing an abundance of walking, i hoisted my bags and set out.

by the time i reached the block where our house was supposed to be, i was bathed in sweat, sore, and beat. i knocked a door somewhere in the middle of the block, and when the lady of the house answered, i simply asked her if the mormon (yes, mormon--i think i outed myself in a comment on blogget's blog--i am not any kind of example at all anymore of what a member of the church of jesus christ of latter-day saints believes, just needed to toss that out there lest my non-existant readers get the wrong idea either of me, or of the mormons) missionaries lived on this block. argentines are both naturally friendly, and naturally curious, and so this is actually a good way to find people. sometimes it works even better if you can say something along the lines of: "she was the one having an affair with the police chief all those years" or "that's the couple with the baby that is not quite right in the head."

"oh, sweetie, not on this street. do you have the address?"

i decided to sit down on my bags and gather my strength before heading the thirteen blocks back to the plaza, when a guy pulled up in a car and says:

"you looking for the mormons?"

we excitedly tossed my gear into his peugeot and he drove me right to the door of the small house where the missionaries lived.

they were not home.

"they're probably at the bus station." my mysterious chaffeur says, and we drive off.

a bus station? the bus station?!? why didn't my bus drop me off at the bus station instead of the plaza? what?

"how do you like the city so far?"

"i have one brother and one sister."

there they are. they are both argentine, and no doubt in my exhaustion and excitement they could barely understand a word i was saying, but my new companion, velasquez, was going to accompany his old companion to his new area (this wasn't supposed to happen. trasladados were supposed to be made on your own. i had. and with only a modicum of working ability in the language. but at this time in my life i was still not ready to stand up to people. i'd get there soon. velasquez would play a big role in that as a matter of fact.) and here was a key to the house and would my friendly driver be so kind as to take (this yammering and clearly unstable) yanqui back to the house and one of the church members should be by in a few to keep me company.

at the house, it turned out i could neither cook a meal nor take a hot shower. (we turned our gas off when we weren't using the stove or the calefon, and i had no idea where the valve was.)

so at this piont, the only thing i have to look forward to is the companionship of the church member who is supposed to be stopping by.

after a time, the doorbell rings.

wooo hoooo!

there, on the threshold, stood a short, stoop-shouldered gentleman, tanned dark brown, wrinkled, but with a pleasant face under a bald dome. his shoes were cracked, with dirty toes poking out at the sides, and his dress pants and button-up shirt were stained and worn.

he smiled happily at me and said:

"shammamma gishdalla hammasha velasquez?"

and translated into english, that sentence says: "shammamma gishdalla hammasha velasquez?"

(oh my, i think, this is the fella that velasquez has sent to keep me company and i don't understand a word coming out of his mouth.)

i am sure my jaw was hanging open.

"umm, velasquez isn't here."

"feshlalla jammamma hawallasha mishmanna?"

"aaand i have no idea when he will be back."

"ah, shemisha shamam, ciao."

this was my first meeting with roberto dibininost. i would tell this story over and over again, to gails of laughter. and each time i told it, i discovered something that actually kind of bothered me: no one understood roberto dibininost.

he was a wizened old creature, shriveled, and beaten from a hard life, who still managed to have a very optimistic and sunny outlook despite the fact that to most people he was a shadow, easily dismissed, often ignored, and quickly forgotten.

suddenly, i so desperately wanted to understand what roberto was saying. i would lean in close, stare intently at his lips, and actually draw my eyebrows together in concentration.

and everything that came out of senor dibininost's mouth was a poem, a ballad, a song of ever-increasing hope against unsurmountable odds. i still only understood every third word at best, but the gist of what he would say was amazing.

he could talk about living in his tiny little one-room house with his daughter that was a prostitute (and an evil and angry little woman--how this sweet old man fathered this mean, bitter creature was beyond me) and how the electricity often got shut off as they didn't always have the money to pay the bill and wrap that up by waxing lyrical about all the proofs that existed daily of how much god loved him and watched out for him.

my heart would swell, and around me the others would nod absently with blank looks and say, "eeeeexactamente."

and i learned something valuable from roberto dibininost, or, more accurately, from the attitude i took towards roberto dibininost: sometimes the person we would dismiss out of hand can teach us some of the greatest lessons that we would otherwise never learn, if we can take a moment and exert a little effort to prepare ourselves to receive it.

i still tell the funny story of my long, hard day capped off with a brief and bizarre exchange with a funny little man, much to the delight of the audience, but i always try to remind myself, at the very least, of the lessons i learned from that same funny little man.

darth sardonic

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Blogger zirelda said...

That's pretty cool really.

My ex is morman when it suits him but we spent much of our marriage ducking out on the missionaries. It still amazes me how they managed to find us within a week every time we moved.

I'm protestant when it suits me. No missionaries. Just a million hugs when I go to mom's church.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Krissie said...

I didn't get the lesson.

2:23 PM  
Blogger darth sardonic said...

ty z. i'm not even mormon when it suits anymore lol.

not even sure there was a lesson, krissie, just a fond memory for me. i guess the lesson would be that the person that is being dismissed and ignored might be the coolest person in the room. kinda like you, maybe?

5:30 PM  
Blogger Pixie said...

that is such a cool attitude that you were able to adopt with Roberto. Signs of the man you've become.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Blogget Jones said...

Yep, you mentioned that on my blog :o) But I didn't know it was your "outing"! LOL Of course, I'm not much of an example myself...I have my downfalls...but I still keep that under wraps, for a lot of reasons.

I love your story! It's amazing to me what we find a learn, when we're open to it.


7:15 PM  
Blogger darth sardonic said...

ty pixie.

ty blogget, and yes, i had mentioned that i was in argentina for a mission (a fact i usually keep to myself, since my example is not in line) but i didn't mention for which religion.

6:48 AM  

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