These tales will span the decades, and story number one goes back to 1987.
The setting was a steamy summer day in Antigua, Guatemala. I was in my first month of training as a Peace Corps Volunteer and had just learned a very interesting fact in my training class. You see in Guatemala (as in many other parts of the world apparently) there is the concept called the “evil eye”.
This is usually some negative spirit from a stranger that can bring danger to little babies in particular. Often parents have some tricks up their sleeve to guard against the evil eye. In fact I remember my Peace Corps friend Carrie even sharing that her mother (who is of Italian heritage) hung garlic behind her crib for this reason and that her dad had no idea. He just thought baby Carrie stunk for the first few months of her life! Her mom eventually fessed up, but I digress.
Anyway, so back to this steamy day in Guatemala. I’d just learned all about this “evil eye” which in Spanish is called “mal ojo”. Parents there painted a little red circle on their infant’s head to protect them from any evil out there. "How fascinating" I remember thinking.
Well, later that day I got on a crowded bus with some of my Peace Corps buddies, and lo and behold, I spied an adorable infant with a red circle. I was so excited!
So of course I began excitedly pointing at the baby’s head while loudly exclaiming in my terrible Spanish, “Look! Look! Evil Eye! Evil Eye! That little baby right there has the Evil Eye thing!”
You guessed it. Apparently seeing a gringa, redheaded stranger pointing and loudly shouting “mal ojo! mal ojo!” caused a some gasping and panic on the bus. To my credit, I realized immediately that I’d done something wrong, so I shut right up and dropped my head down to look as contrite and sorry as I possibly could.
Then my friends who spoke fluent Spanish smoothed things over by explaining something along the lines that I was just learning and was a little excitable. Thank goodness.
Truth be told though, I’ve never been able to quite shake the feeling though that they may have communicated something more along the lines that I had a super low IQ or something like that.
Ah well. Lesson learned. Think. Think some more. Then speak. Maybe. -M