14 May, 2014


My students were the first ones to tell me espera, although not in so many words. The first day of class, I was ready to get started at 2 pm on the dot. If I'm honest, I was ready by 1:30, and fidgeted impatiently in the classroom for half an hour. That's how I am. It's how I'm wired. From early memory, I hear the words "If you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late; if you're late, you're left." So much of the etiquette of my upbringing has been about being punctual. About how it's respectful to be on time, and disrespectful to be late. That first day in the classroom, I had to question it.

"Let's get started," I said, at 2:03, in my not-fucking-around teacher voice, the one designed to cut through whispers and giggles and make sleepy students wince. "But Miss," they replied, like people making a clear and obvious argument, "Not everyone is here."

Back home, I probably would have shot back, "Well that's unfortunate for them; we've got things to do." I didn't, though, because even on the first day, I was seeing that things work differently here. This isn't disrespect, this is Asunción telling me espera.

So I did. I do. We start class when we start class, and that's OK.

The entire cycle of life here tells me espera. The evening meal doesn't happen here until well after my stomach has begun demanding it. But Asunción says espera, and I do. At first it was about being polite; I didn't want to ask the restaurant to readjust its schedule, to ask the whole damn country to readjust its schedule for one insignificant and spoiled white lady whose stomach is on Missouri time. Instead, I sat in my room, checking the clock and struggling to ignore my rumbling belly.

Five or so days in, my stomach gave up, got with the program, and stopped whining, and I realized that the time I had between work and dinner was a blessing, a chance to unwind and watch the city do the same from my balcony.

So I wait. Yo espero. And as it turns out, I don't starve.

It's now, and I'm here.
Tonight, I strolled down the street to a restaurant that everyone I know who's been here recommends. I took my time. I looked at the lace and wood carvings being sold by the vendors in the plaza. I got to the restaurant, and a smiling woman brought me an empanada and a giant salad, and I ate it slowly, enjoying every bite, watching futbol with the old man sitting next to me. I was in no hurry. I had no place to be, no timetable to keep. It was bliss. And the empanada was delicious.

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped and looked at the Monumento a los Heroes. I'd walked past it a dozen times, but I'd never seen it after dark, all lit up. I stood on the corner and watched while the lights faded from red to purple to blue and back again.

A little old couple strolled past holding hands, and kids played on the stairs, and I felt like I was part of it. And Asunción stopped telling me espera, and instead it told me ¿Qué ves? Ahora.

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