Monday, November 29, 2010

can't misinterpret that...

one of the teachers at our spanish school tells it like it is.

Turkey, Pumpkin Pie & Baseball

For Thanksgiving, we decided to make a traditional meal and invite over some friends from the Baxter Institute, a Bible college in Tegucigalpa.  We had a little trouble finding some of the ingredients, but a couple days and about five grocery stores later, we had everything we needed for a feast of turkey, stuffing, green beans, broccoli-cheese casserole, mashed potatoes & gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Our guests, Osbel Brito & Madelin Lugones (and Harry), and Juan Carlos de los Santos were very brave to try so much strange food and seemed to like everything well enough.  They were also very patient with our butchering of their beautiful language.  The most difficult part of the night for me was attempting to explain the origins of Thanksgiving in Spanish--I can barely do it in English.

It so happens that Osbel is from Cuba and Juan Carlos is from the Dominican Republic, so in a country like Honduras, whose sporting interests essentially begin and end with futbol, it was a pleasure to talk baseball with a couple of guys who, like me, had grown up playing the sport and idolizing its stars.  We compared stories of imaginatively creating variations of baseball depending on the space, equipment, and players available.  One of the biggest reasons that soccer is so popular in Honduras and around the world is that, really, all you need is a ball and you've got a game.  Baseball, on the other had, does require a few more things, but it's amazing what young (or not so young) kids can come up with when you really want to play.  I told them about playing with my brother with a ball we made out of socks, hitting walnuts with an old bat, and of course trying to explain wiffleball.  They told about using oranges, the little ball from roll-on deodorant, and  even hitting plastic caps from a water bottle with a broomstick or a piece of bamboo.  It has always been amazing to me to know that even in the poverty of some Latin American and Caribbean countries, some of the best players in the history of the game have come from these very humble beginnings.

If you're a baseball fan, you've probably heard some of these stories.  One of the things you hear about is the kids who grew up improvising with whatever was handy to make a baseball glove.  It's kind of a legendary thing that you hear some commentator mention every now and then: the slick-fielding all-star with the multi-million dollar contract who grew up so poor that he learned to play the game using a cardboard glove  (a recent example of this is Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, from the Dominican).  I asked Osbel and Juan Carlos if these stories were true--if that really was common; and how exactly did that work?  They immediately said yes, that in their countries it was extremely common and a kind of an art-form.  They said that they had made and played with many cardboard gloves as kids.  Well, I immediately ran to get a cardboard box and a utility knife and was amazed to watch them work, and in short order they produced a simple but effective baseball glove.  Incredible.

it can even double as a catcher's mask
We certainly missed being with our families on Thanksgiving, but we had a great one with good friends and lots of good food.  It was one of my most memorable, and for our guests, I feel safe in saying that it was the best traditional American Thanksgiving dinner they had ever had.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spanish You Didn't Know You Knew

It all started one day in Spanish class. We had previously learned the word for ‘noise,’ which is ‘ruido,’ and we were now learning that adding ‘oso’ to the end of a word can be like adding a ‘y’ to the end of an English word, turning a noun into an adjective. Bart - not realizing it at the time - asked our teacher whether the word ‘ruidoso’ would mean ‘noisy,’ which she confirmed. Then, suddenly, it clicked! My brother & his wife’s family make a trip to Ruidoso, New Mexico every year...and at that moment we realized they actually make a trip to ‘Noisy’ every year!

Since that day there have been many similar moments, when we realize that words we’ve said most of our lives are actually Spanish words. Along with a few words that, although pronounced differently, appear and mean the same thing in both languages (like doctor, actor, and patio), we’ve noticed there are several well-known sites in the US whose names have Spanish meanings. Here are a few that you may not have known you knew:
Ruidoso, New Mexico  ruidoso = noisy

Sacramento, California     el sacramento = the sacrament

El Reno, Oklahoma
Reno, Nevada el reno = the reindeer

Trinidad, Colorado la Trinidad = the Trinity

Amarillo, Texas                amarillo = yellow

Santa Cruz, California  santa cruz = holy cross

Las Vegas, Nevada  la vega = fertile lowland (what?!)

Palo Alto, California palo alto = tall stick

Santa Fe, New Mexico  santa fe = holy faith

Buena Vista, Colorado  buena vista = good view
Kinda crazy, huh?  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scenes from the Market

On Friday our Spanish teacher and her son guided us around four of the markets in Tegus & Comayaguela (the sister-city of Tegus). Walking around the markets defies explanation. It is sensory overload. And it's certainly one of our top cultural experiences since we arrived.

At the market it's possible to buy anything you can imagine...and some things you'd never imagine!

b & m

Saturday, November 13, 2010


A very common sight in Tegucigalpa is someone selling goods along the roadside or at street intersections. Among the vendors’ goods are: every kind of fruit you can imagine, cell phone covers, cell phone chargers, kites, dinner rolls, pieces of cloth for washing your car, steering wheel covers, gum, cotton candy, brooms, trash cans, and the list could go on.
One day upon seeing several vendors, I peppered Bart with questions. How much do you think they make in a day? Do you think that’s their only source of income? What if they don’t make enough on a particular day...What do they do that day to feed their families?
In the US many of us enjoy a privileged lifestyle: Three meals a day, 7 days a week; safe homes in safe neighborhoods; health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, homeowners insurance...
But - just as the ‘discomfort’ from yesterday’s post can have hidden blessings for us - I believe a lack of (what we define as) ‘security’ may hold something beneficial for us. 
How would my reliance on God transform if I really had to trust Him for my daily bread? And what would that do to my view of self? and the Pride in self I currently feel entitled to take?
I’ll probably never know what it’s like to live a life of poverty, but I hope I can somehow develop the humble countenance and grateful spirit that is fitting for a child of God.

Friday, November 12, 2010


When I’m hot, I’m used to turning on the air conditioner. When I’m cold, I’m used to turning on the heater. Here in Honduras, most shopping centers are open-air, and most buildings have open windows, so your body gets very accustomed to whatever the temperature is outside. An air conditioner is very difficult to find...and a heater is pretty much impossible to find! (And, yes, it does get cold in Honduras!)
In the States, so much of what could bring us discomfort, we have the power to control: Your steak isn’t cooked correctly? Send it back! That’s not your favorite TV show? Change the channel (or watch something you’ve DVR’d!).
What if we had very little control over things in our lives? Like, what if you didn’t determine what you ate, or even if you ate? Or what if, on a cold night, you not only didn’t have a heater with a thermostat, you also didn’t have windows to keep out the cool air or a blanket to cover up with?
From what I’ve witnessed here so far, this amount of discomfort has the potential to develop in people a flexibility, strength, and resourcefulness that I envy.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t envy their discomfort...but the blessing in disguise may be the opportunity to gain a strength of character and - for those who trust in God - a genuine trust in their Maker and Sustainer.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


During our 10am break at Spanish Class, Bart & I like to walk down to a local bakery, Pan y Mas (Bread & More), for a snack. This morning Bart spotted a chocolate muffin that ended up being the best thing we’ve tasted there. I said something like, “You better enjoy it, because you may not see it again for a couple months!” What I meant - and what we’ve come to know about lots of things in Honduras - was to enjoy what you have today, because there’s no guarantee it will be here tomorrow. Sometimes the grocery store will have yogurt, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes a restaurant will have tacos, and sometimes they won’t. In this country it’s not a negative thing, it’s just a thing, and it’s something we’ve had to adjust to over the past 6 weeks.
We recalled a particular day in Norman, Oklahoma, at glorious Super Target (oh, how I miss Target!) when there was no Basic 4 on the shelf. No Basic 4?! What did they expect us to do? Get in our car and drive all the way across the street to Homeland to buy it?! Or come back tomorrow?! I mean, come on!!
Yes, I’m being sarcastic...But honestly we felt really upset that day. As Americans, I think we can become very accustomed to the Convenient life. We have very high expectations. And we take for granted that we have almost anything we want at our fingertips. Unfortunately, I think this can help us become pretty demanding people who feel entitled to what we want, when we want it. 
So today, we learn to truly appreciate the chocolate muffin. And hopefully, we learn from those around us what it really looks like to be grateful for our ‘daily bread.’ 

Monday, November 8, 2010

The House that Tortillas Built

On Saturday, we had a chance to go to our friend Arnold's house.  Some of you may know Arnold and his family, but for those who don't, they have an incredible story.  They live in a village up a mountain on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa called Mogote.  Its a village of a few thousand people that has only existed for about twelve years. In 1998 when Hurricane Mitch devastated the country, Arnold and his family were among the many thousands whose homes were wiped out.  Homeless, and with only the few possessions they were able to salvage, they went to higher ground.  With the pride of someone who has come a long way from a very low point in life, they showed us a photo of the house they built in what was then an empty field and is now the heart of the village of Mogote.  I use the term "house" loosely.  They had made a shelter from some scrap wood they were able to find and a few blue tarps donated to Honduras for the post-Mitch relief effort.  I am amazed that someone had the presence of mind to somehow gather their family in front of their new home and get someone to take their picture.  To me, it shows that in their minds, this was a setback that someday they could look back on and be proud of themselves and each other that they had overcome.

They have certainly received some help from some generous people, but most of what they have they owe to tortillas.  After Mitch, Arnold's mother began making and selling tortillas to earn money to build a proper house.  Arnold sold them door-to-door throughout the village.  They were eventually able to build the house and today she and her daughter still make tortillas everyday to help fund the education of kids and grandkids.  

Saturday we had lunch in the house that tortillas built (and, yes, tortillas were on the menu), and after lunch Melissa was given a lesson in tortilla-making.  The whole family was so kind and hospitable and made us feel right at home.  They are great people with an incredible story.  And the story still continues.  Moved by their determination, a family from Edmond have been sponsoring Arnold's university education.  He is the first person from Mogote to receive a university education.  It is moving to know where this family has come from and to imagine what the future holds.

P.S. In case you're wondering, 3 tortillas will cost you 1 Lempira, which in US Dollars translates to about 1.5 cents per tortilla.