Back to school

It’s not really raining in my part of Belgium tonight. Just that pittering of tiny drops on your face. Cricket morse code, beginning tap dance class for lovable spiders, limited engagement precipitation which only shows up quicking under a street lamp, making facet instants on the gutter water, and those pecks on your cheeks.

Riding home I pass through and over sounds and smells that are coming to mean Belgium to me. The honest reek of a field soaked in horse urine, the stink grown mossy and powerful in the damp, like incense in an ancient cult that’s going to take a lot of getting used to. The pop of acorn husks under my tires. When I get to the rich oil smell of the fries-shop, I know I am almost home. Just come abreast of the pharmacy with its sleepless and standard electric sign chanting the time and temperature religiously in little green dots like a Night Bright, then I’m home.

I am coming back from class. The first time I realized I needed to go to bed early because it was a school night I felt a chuckling nostalgia for the grimace that came back with surprising familiarity after all these years. School.

So I am a student again. I bought a textbook with matching workbook. I bike to class on Mondays and carpool on Tuesdays. I bring two pens, a pencil, and a notebook, though I generally scribble any notes in the book’s margins. I need to buy more lead for my mechanical pencil before it runs out.

I am taking Dutch classes at a local night school with all the other immigrants and mail order brides. This tongue-tied community is deepening my welcome to Belgium with their Filipino names, Cuban gold teeth, Polish haircuts, Romanian giggles, Dominican accents, Congolese cool, Armenian eyebrows, and ridiculously broad Latvian shoulders. The Eastern Europeans came for work, the Latin Americans married Belgians and moved here, and there is a rumor that the Congolese guy plays semi-professional soccer, which may explain his customary absence.

Our skill levels span a decent range of the very bottom of the scale. I think the Spanish speakers have it the hardest, especially since the Cuban and Dominican accents heavily aspirate (to the point of deleting) “s” and the ends of syllables, which just doesn’t fly in Dutch. And none of us are proficient at the Dutch “u” sound, where we almost always replace it with “oe.”

But spirits are generally high, though Tomasz the Pole still whines horribly at any sliver of homework, and also-Polish Bogdan’s absences are competing with Congolese Tchite’s. Bogdan’s wife still comes to class, and I wonder how long she can keep up her explanations for his absence; he has gone from sick to working late to breaking an ankle playing soccer. But that’s probably okay because when he did come he refused to take notes, insisting that his wife was doing it for him.

Oh and one time, Tomasz, the whiner, on his first day actually, knowing full well when class ends interrupted the teacher with 6 minutes left to say “isn’t it time to leave?” I thought that was about the balsiest stunt I’ve ever seen from a student.

But other than those couple humorous Poles, the class is sweethearts. There is Shushanit, from Armenië whose husband has finally stopped patrolling the hallway outside the class with their daughter all three hours. I suspect she is the best Dutch-speaker in the class but she is so soft-spoken it is hard to say. Or the other Armenian woman, Lilit, whose eyes are always laughing. I biked home with Romans from Latvia the other day, whose bicycle has no brakes, and though I couldn’t understand all of his enthusiastic English I enjoyed the company. Eduardo from Cuba had a son born two days ago. I think Traian has a crush on Ewelina.

So even though the class moves pretty slowly, I am happy to be there, watching my classmates, learning the language, integrating with my new…home?