i paid the phone and water bills today, twenty-four hours before the deadline--a monthly errand that translates into something often easier said than done. sometimes the forces work against early payments, mainly that the mail still arrives on a predictably erratic schedule. in spite of our efforts to help the postal service distinguish between our house number 73 and the house number 73 three houses down, the mailman doesn't seem too conscientious about separating the two homes' arriving envelopes. so our neighbors continue to toss our mail into our yard a few weeks later. and i've discovered that if ever a drought threatens to descend upon the valley here, we wouldn't have much need for rain dances, just a bit of mail. every time envelopes addressed to us are scattered across the yard, the rains never fail to fall before we get out or get home to find them there. to date, each letter, postcard, or delivery notice we've received has been warped and stained, with shades of water-run ink, but miraculously legible.
the phone bill, too, has arrived a number of times on the day payment is due. but this month, though warped and crispy, we picked up envelopes from the phone company and the water plant more than a few days early. i smiled, knowing that this time i would avoid the lines and the hour-long waits.
those wayward bills make me think of good timing, but this month they also reminded me that i still do a lot of translating.
learning a new language for most people means learning to translate words and phrases and expression from the unfamiliar into the familiar, making comprehension slow and sometimes frustrating. but after time, those same new words or ways of communicating no longer depend on a translation for meaning to happen; their meaning begins to lie in the combination of letters themselves. like our rain-soaked but readable mail, it's something of a miracle.
for the most part, i'm there. though i still often find myself translating an english thought into spanish, following a conversation or reading a novel no longer obligate me to process so much. i simply understand. and i think that's amazing.
but the world of prices and costs in this new economy still have me translating them every time. i addition to being physically warped, the numbers listed on our bills also seem conceptually warped, as well. i can't yet look at our phone/internet invoice of $758.00 pesos and comprehend immediately how much that really means--i have to translate it into my own monetary language of the us dollar. lucky for me and my mental math block, it simply means moving the decimal point one space to the left.
i'm fascinated with this need to translate, to find meaning in these numbers, to compare them with a system of place value that i understand better. i'd wager that monetary value is as much a part of a country's language as its nouns, adjectives and verbs. economics is a mysterious field for me, especially since value seems so arbitrary, but one set of those arbitrary value indicators makes more sense to me because i've grown up with it and its relative stability.
which makes me think that it would be extremely difficult for people in their own country to live through an economic change or crisis that would turn their monetary understanding into a foreign language over night. patricio remembers the years when almost everyone he knew was a millionaire here, knowing that the peso was worth much less, but a little unsure about that really meant. across the atlantic, i imagine that converting to the euro had a similar effect. the equivalent to aggie or pollock jokes here in mexico take aim at the spanish, and one of those jokes attributed a sharp rise in spanish automobile accidents to the drivers' attempts at converting pesetas to euros, concentrating so hard on the math that they forgot about the road. i laugh because it's kind of absurd, but also because i know how it feels.