Friday, August 28, 2009

Portrait #92: First hotel receptionist

The first thing that I noticed about her was her enormous smile - it occupied a good 2/3 of her face. But then again, that may be a function of the size of her face than the size of her smile. Because the second thing I noticed about her was her tinyness. She may weigh all of ninety pounds, or forty kilos? That's half the total weight of my luggage coming over here. You know when we joke about putting someone in our bags and taking them with us when we leave a place? Well, she may actually have fit. Her knee-length straight lined skirt and black short heels only accentuated the slim person they contained.

Her English was limited, but she used every nugget of linguistic knowledge that she could dig up, all in order to communicate with me. But then she found out I speak Portuguese and eagerly switched.

(editorial interlude: Even though Portuguese is an official language in Timor Leste, it's not at all commonly spoken. It's most likely found in government documents, or else spoken in the bars where Portuguese military-police types chill. That being said, I'm also finding more and more people who can by in Portuguese if they must, for one reason or another - it's like their secret code weapon, and I'm lucky enough to be in the know.)

Since there are a lot of Portuguese and Brazilian expats in Timor Leste, this resourceful receptionist decided to attend Portuguese lessons, along with the obligatory English lessons (English is the international language, after all, and there are many internationals here). And she told me that Portuguese was a lot easier to learn, because her teacher was so good. And of course it doesn't hurt that it shares a lot of vocabulary with her native Tetun.

So, all in all, I had the impression that hers was an impressively entrepreneurial spirit. Except for the moments when she would just stare at me. These moments generally happened when I did anything out of the ordinary: asked her how the Internet service worked without thinking to ask how much it would cost me; confessed that she'd undercharged me for my meals in the hotel; asked about leaving my bags in the reception area instead of lugging them around when I changed rooms for a night. She didn't have a ready answer for these queries. Instead, she'd break out half of that smile and gaze at me, then down at her pad of paper, then say nothing for a bit more, then wordlessly resolve the problem with no explanation to me.

1 comment:

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