Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Wedding and Some Luck

It’s pretty easy to recognize the cultural differences from Honduras to life in the U.S—the little idiosyncrasies that give character to this small nation: like the utter lack of regard for punctuality, the lack of law in general, and the lack of respect for the sanctity of marriage (for the men anyways).  Of course there is the lack of public services such as water, electricity, and paved streets so I can't write in my notebook on the bus without it seeming like I had a stroke.  On Friday I experienced something in my kids that was quite the opposite of the aforementioned faults—something that warmed my heart instead of setting it on fire with frustration. 

In 4th grade gym class, we made a mango salad as a lesson in nutrition.  In a country that eats primarily fried chicken and tortillas, I figured it would be good to reinforce fruits and vegetables in their diet.  The students actually suggested the idea, so I told them to bring in the Mangos and I would bring a knife and a couple other ingredients that we needed.  The mangos they brought were not ripe by any means, and in fact they were a brilliant green color almost like a sour apple.  I was under the impression that the mangos were going to be soft and ripe boasting the typical pale orange tint that gives me the mouth watering urge to bite into one of my favorite fruits.  The kids explained that unripe mangos that are green and acidic with a consistency like a pear are the best.  The salt, as they explained, would balance the acidic flavor.  Since I thought the fruit would be soft, I brought a crappy butter knife that did more harm than good.  The kids decided to borrow a knife from the school’s neighbors who live in a one room brick house most often filled with an assortment of farm animals.  I have seen a father, mother, and about three kids living in a house that is about 8 feet by 8 feet

After borrowing the knife, I began to dice the mango while the kids added vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and cumin.  They brought small bags to serve the salad in.  What I found to be so heartwarming was that after they were done dressing the salad they began discussing who was going to eat it.  They started calling out names of other teachers and administrators and filling the bags full of what we had just worked so hard to make.  Each student was able to give a teacher or administrator a full bag of mango salad.  When it was all said and done, the bowl was empty and I was almost upset that they didn’t save some for themselves--although, that never even crossed their mind.  There happened to be 10 mango seeds that I had discarded after cutting as much flesh as I could.  I suggested that we throw them in the sauce and the students could eat the residual mango that I couldn’t get to.  We had two full mangos left that we couldn’t fit into the bowl and the kids decided it would be a good idea to fix them so we could gift them to the less fortunate family that let us borrow the knife.  All the kids wanted to go present the gift and return the knife with me and I never felt so proud of my kids.  It made me kind of emotional to see a collection of mere children acting so selflessly.  It seems there aren’t many selfless acts left in a world so dependent on monetary value and the mutual exchange of goods and services.  It was truly something special to see that quality in a group of otherwise rambunctious children. 

It certainly got me thinking about my motivations.  My time teaching the children is by no means a selfless act, as it is full of benefits with long lasting rewards.  The ability to speak Spanish I’m sure will be very useful in whatever career I choose, and any volunteer work teaching English is such a great resume builder.  This was one instance where the kids taught me a lesson—even if what you are left with is the scraps of your labor, a selfless act can bear fruit of a different kind—the happiness in others.

We got invited to a wedding Friday night by one of the Honduran teachers who works for our school.  It was a great opportunity to see any differences in tradition.  Abby is a beautiful girl of 18 years old who was apparently a very hot commodity as she matured to an acceptable age for marriage.  The wedding turned out to be relatively normal compared to American standards.  It took place in a beautiful colonial house decorated in spring colors with purple blooms sprouting from the trees in the courtyard.  With the colonial arches rampant in the architecture and the elegant decorations we might as well have been in Spain.  The ceremony was quick and to the point as it was a civil union, basically highlighting the signing of the marriage certificate.  I thought this was odd because the town is religious, predominately made up of Catholics and Evangelical Christians.  To have a civil union seems apposed to the town standard.  What also struck me as odd were the expressions of both the bride and groom when going through the ceremony.  They both seemed miserable.  Though, I have noticed that Central Americans in general do not like to be the center of attention and instead of smiling uncontrollably as other people do when nervous, they seem to get a deer in the headlights poker face.  For some reason, they rarely smile for pictures. 

One reason for the miserable attitude could have been the situation leading to the marriage.  As I said before, Abby was quite the hot commodity when she became of age and she had several suitors, though two suitors in particular.  One of the suitors was 45 years old.  He is a wealthy figure in a neighboring town.  Abby’s family pressured her as much as they could to marry the older, wealthy suitor who would do much for their family’s stability.  The other suitor, whom she would marry, is around 24 years old with a great job but not as well established in the community.  Abby didn’t seem all that excited about either possibility, but as a beautiful Honduran woman, it is expected of you to do the right thing for stability and security in your own life and the life of your family.  She went against her parent's wished and married the younger man.  In my opinion, Abby made the best of a bad situation.  I suppose that’s all she could do.  In many ways, your hands are tied as a Honduran woman in Olancho.

During the wedding, Rob got a call that his previously broken computer had been fixed and could be picked up at his convenience.  We decided to take a little trip to the capital and retrieve it the next day.  We made quick plans, packed, and got ready for the 5 am bus to Tegucigalpa.  During this trip, I ate burger king twice and ate at the local Chili’s.  In the United States, I spend my time ranting against the culinary traditions of America and eating mostly Latin American food.  However, in Latin America after a couple months of fried chicken and tortillas all I can really think about is a whopper with cheese.  So that is what I did—twice—and a blue cheese bacon burger at Chili’s.  

After we got our bellies full of good old American grease, we decided to go to Rob’s hotel where there was a nice bar that Rob wanted to go to and a casino that I wanted to try my luck at.  I popped my head in disappointed to find that there wasn’t any card tables—what I did find was some video poker.  My eyes were like Clark Griswold as I reached into my pocket and pulled out 100 Lempira and put it in the machine.  I lost 100 in about 5 minutes as I was excited to be playing and moved through the cards pretty quickly.  After you win a hand, you have the option of doubling up and drawing a card against the dealer.  Marie was sitting next to me and I was letting her decided when I should let it ride and when I should call it quits.  When I was almost out of my credits from the second 100, Marie and I were ready to give up.  I drew two aces, held them, and said, “I like my odds on this one.”  I pressed deal to exchange three cards and turned to Marie.  I heard a blinking sound as Marie and I were talking and figured I had won with a pair of Aces.  Marie said, “I think you might have won something.”  I turned to the screen to see 4 aces and a jackpot sign flashing across the screen.  I started sweating immediately thinking I had won my weight in gold.  A Honduran nearby said, “Que Suerte!” or “How Lucky!”  The credits kept adding up without any indication of stopping.  On a 10 lempira bet, I won 4,000 Lempira.  4,000 Lempira is well over most of the country's average monthly wage and very close to my monthly stipend.  Needless to say, it wasn’t my weight in gold, but 4,000 Lempira goes very far here.  The attendant checked my machine to make sure I hadn’t cheated and sent me with a check to the cashier where I received 3800 lempira after taxes.  The rest of my time in Tegucigalpa and on the way home I had a sly grin plastered on my face.  Talk about luck of the Irish!


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