They called me Alice. I thought it was strange, but what did it matter? And what really could I do? I couldn’t properly pronounce their names either. And maybe it really was an enduring nickname, I thought. They were my Ecuadorian family, the beautiful people who loved me and helped me with my sad Spanish. They cooked my soups and brought me Gatorade when I was throwing up. They tried to set me up with an Ecuadorian boyfriend and nearly died when I pierced my nose. They called me Alice, and I called them family.
I remember the first time we met in the airport. A short man with a big belly was waiting for someone called “Alicia.” He was scowling and pacing back and forth. When we saw each other, I smiled to indicate that I might be the Alycia he was waiting for. He smiled, too, as much as a grumpy old grandpa can smile. As we walked outside into the cool Quito air, he said, “You are pretty. American girls are always pretty.”
“Oh, well thank you, uhm, sir.”
“Alicia en el pais de las maravillas…you are Alicia en el pais de las maravillas.”
“Oh. Ok.” I laughed nervously, like I always do, but I didn’t understand at all what he was saying. Is there a country named Maravillas? Why does he think that I come from that place? Doesn’t he understand that I come from the States? Of course he does, he just said that…right? God, my Spanish sucks.
I had nearly forgotten this awkward introduction from two years ago. Whatever that man had said did not make sense, but neither did anything else during my time in Ecuador. And luckily for me, my mind tends to forget all kinds of things, sometimes even embarrassing ones.
Then one month ago, I arrived in the Managua airport. Again, a man with a sign waited for me at the exit.
“Hi, I’m Herman, what’s your name?”
“Alycia, mucho gusto.”
“Ahhh, Alicia en el pais de las maravillas.”
“Mmhmm, I’m..I’m from the States.” I smiled, and Herman didn’t seem to notice that I was confused.
Introductions like this one happened over and over during my first week in Nicaragua. I would introduce myself, the other person would say, “Alicia! Alicia en el pais de las maravillas!” and I would turn pink and confused. This happened with everyone – with the professors at my school, the workers in the hostel, the cashiers at the grocery store where I used my credit card.
Finally, I googled it.
And Google smoothed the wrinkles in my desperate little brain:
Alicia en el pais de las maravillas is a movie and a storybook about a little girl named Alice who lives in a place called Wonderland.
I am Alice in Wonderland, or sometimes, Alycia in the Wonderlands.
I live a good life.