This little old Latino guy is standing on the corner with a folded piece of yellow tablet paper in his hands. He is looking around at the street signs. Even though I am sure stopping will make me late for my meeting at the neighborhood coffee shop, I ask if I can help.
In English of course. I don’t speak Spanish other than a few niceties like “gracias,” and I can ask where the bathroom is by saying “el baño?” with an urgent look on my face.
He responded in Spanish of course. And from his gestures and inflections, I gather that he is very disappointed that I don’t speak Spanish. It’s happened before. People mistake my olive skin and dark hair for something else.
He chatters on and I figure out a little of what he was trying to tell me. He is from Peru. His family lives in Michigan. He showed me the piece of paper he was holding. It had some phone numbers on it but I couldn’t understand anything else. I take my phone from my purse and offered it to him so that he could call one of the numbers. He shakes his head no.
So we walk together in the direction of the coffee shop. All the while I’m hoping that we run across a Spanish speaker. That doesn’t happen so as we pass by my friend Jill’s house, I ring the bell. Her husband speaks Spanish. The dog barks his head off but no one answers.
Then I get the brilliant idea that I could call one of my Spanish speaking friends and ask her to translate for me. On the third try, I connect with my friend Maria who lives in California.
I explain the situation to her and hand my friend from Peru the phone. I am really hoping that the assistance he requires won’t take too much longer. They exchange a few brief words and he gives the phone back to me.
Maria says, “Elaine, he’s been trying to tell you that he doesn’t need any help.”
My friend from Peru and I shake hands and go our separate ways on this fine sunny day.