“B ruski?” the well-dressed older gentlemen asked me in the lobby as his wife beamed awaiting my answer. (English translation: “Are you Russian?”)
I smiled my big toothy, wide smile and leaned forward with my eyebrows up. I thought I was giving them a friendly Hoosier body-language response: “What did you say?” All I understood was the word “Russian.”
Phoebe said that by leaning forward and smiling my body language responded, “Yes, I am Russian, so keep speaking Russian, because I can so totally understand every word you speak.”
After his wife rapidly began a very lovely conversation with us in Russian, she then saw my eyebrows furl in misunderstanding.
“Oh, where are you from?”
“America,” I answered.
“Ahh, we have met many Russians here, I thought you were Russian.”
We continued to have a nice conversation in English.
Friendship always starts with finding a commonality.
In the pool overlooking the sandy Caribbean Sea, a woman from Argentina swam over and asked Phoebe where she got her floating raft. After sandy-blonde-haired Phoebe gave the fellow vacationer from Argentina directions to the towel house in Spanish and they had talked for a while, she told Phoebe very directly: “You are the most light-skinned Hispanic I have ever seen.”
(Note to self: Send Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Feltrop and Mrs. Ray a thank you for being excellent Spanish language teachers.)
Phoebe’s mother-daughter vacation was full of adventure. We stayed at the Barcelo Resort in Riviera Maya among a throng of vacationers from Brazil, Russia, Germany, Italy, Canada, Chile, Japan, Argentina, Australia and many states of Mexico.
Every once in a while we heard a familiar American accent.
Phoebe’s high school Spanish classes came in quite handy after taking a tour of the 13th century Tulum Mayan ruins. Tulum was the only Mayan city built on a rock bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, so the photo opportunities were endless.
Unfortunately, when the tour bus guide says, “Be back at the bus at 11, we are leaving at 11:15,” they mean exactly 11:15, not 11:19.
Another nice couple from Chile made the same mistake. I listened to Phoebe and the Chilean couple converse about what to do.
Phoebe took the lead and, using her people skills and Spanish, talked all four of us stranded vacationers onto another bus going to our next destination, which was 20 miles away.
At Xel-Ha, a natural aquarium park, we snorkeled among parrotfish, snappers, sturgeons, and next to a friendly 4.5-foot-long barracuda. We watched two dolphins use their noses to lift and scoot a vacationer across the water, like she was on skis.
We visited Xel-Ha’s plant nursery and apiary, which displayed the Mayan’s traditional way of beekeeping Melipona bees. We took pictures of some friendly coatis, which are basically Mexican raccoon-like animals. And we got some fantastic ideas to bring home and put into place — like the hammock jungle, which was an area with 80 inviting hammocks hanging from palm trees.
Since our heartland isn’t conducive for growing palm trees and my backyard isn’t large enough to call it a hammock jungle, we may have to rename it “hammock park.”
Back at the resort, we kayaked, swam and rode a huge two-seated water tricycle in the turquoise ocean. But mostly we relaxed and laughed and got our fill of vitamin D.
I started thinking how civilized it feels to get dressed up for dinner and eat great food on china plates and water from wine glasses. And I thought (for a moment) I should use my china more and serve my family by pouring our water into wine glasses.
I thought how civilized if felt to be among such an eclectic group of people from many countries.
And then I thought, at the same time, that I looked forward to going home, to see the myriad fall leaf colors and my family.
And I thought everyone else seemed very relaxed, but at some point were probably thinking the same thing: This is paradise, but there’s no place like home — where there is great commonality.
Janet Hommel Mangas, the third of seven children, grew up on the east side of Greenwood. The Center Grove area resident and her husband are the parents of three daughters. Send comments to email@example.com.