My husband B and I are without electricity, but a lot of time, during these post-hurricane days. It’s been an opportunity to expand his Spanish vocabulary. Today’s word was the noun pala, which means shovel, but also means having an “in”, pull, or connections. I used it in a sentence to help him understand.
“The Dominican hair salons along the boulevard have major pala with los santos.”
B understood what los santos meant, but looked confused.
“The Dominican salons have pull with the saints? Any one in particular?”
I exhaled and rolled my eyes.
“Jeez B, there’s no patron saint of smooth hair. Duh.”
“I’m not getting it. The salons share a holy shovel?”
“Coño, I’m going to hit you with a shovel. No.”
B didn’t mean to push my buttons. We’d been in the dark together too long, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and taking cold showers. And he needed more than translation and part of speech to understand it was no coincidence so many Dominican hair salons are located along the stretch of the boulevard that never lost power. The salons were as busy on Wednesday morning after the storm as they would be early on a Saturday when everyone gets lovely for the weekend.
I’m an au-naturel kind of gal, so B doesn’t understand that “thou shalt not be seen in public unless thy hair has been stretched and scorched into smooth submission” is one of the top Latina commandments. Mis comadres in DeBrianalys’s Salon de Belleza looked at me like I’m not representing my gente with my kinkies when I walked past today in search of hot coffee and bananas.
Los santos are no fools. Everyone’s nerves are crispy after the storm, and hell hath no fury like a Latina whose hair ritual has been messed with. The saints are working overtime responding to prayers and pleas, and Latinas who’ve got to hide their hair with scarves for more than two days would not be patient or polite with their requests. Every saint was shielding that stretch of the boulevard during the storm Tuesday night to preserve their heavenly peace.
“I still don’t get it. What does this have to do with pala or having connections?”
I looked at B, shook my head, and sighed. My blanquito husband might never understand. I’m his main Latina resource, but even I don’t get it right all the time. I try, though, and so does he. We navigate the uncertainty and darkness of language, life, and post-storm cabin fever together, doing the best we can. It’s a daily challenge, but at the end of each day, the work and effort feels right to us.