Thursday, December 28, 2006

I hate chocolate... There, I said it.

I doubt anyone will be surprised when I say without hesitation that beans, tomatoes, guacamole, and yes, as hard as it is to believe, CHOCOLATE are four foods I despise and would not mind if I never had to see again. The only exceptions to these ever tight rules of anti nasty food is that I can tolerate a snickers bar oddly love white chocolate and I like tomato sauce with my Italian food, but too much is just a bummer. Ok, and yeah, spicy sauces too, but only because the spice outweighs the tomato, ya know?

And so last week as another HUGE piece of chocolate cake was placed before me, I didn’t know if I had the will to do it again. I am all about courtesy and the such, but I’d been crunching on tomatoes and smiling like they were good, mashing beans in my mouth and pretending the ¨full on texture¨ ¨dull on flavor¨ crap was tasty, and had eaten enough ¨it looks like green puke¨ guacamole until all I saw was green and feared how much green I might be seeing if I woke up with an upset stomach that night. I smile and hide the fear when people offer chocolate... ice cream, cake, chocolate bars and the like, but this time, the limits were being tested.

I guess part of that is a lie. It is not like someone is forcing me to eat this stuff (I guess I could be rude or as Roy suggested, say I am allergic) but many times, given our food budget, I find myself in such a desperate state of hunger (I use these words carefully friends) that I feel excited to eat anything, even if it is tomatoes, chocolate, guac, or beans. It is amazing what a tiny salary, limited food, and of that limited food, limited options can get a man to do. My housemates have sat in amazement and watched me do it, probably not really believing I hate these foods given the ferociousness with which I attack the plate.

To save you the suspense I ate the cake, the pure chocolate cake with not a drop of water by and found that God might not answer the first prayer (please don’t let that woman bring cake out here!) or the second prayer (at least make her give the bigger piece to Natalie) but the third time was the charm(Please God, let there be at least one breath mint in my pocket after I finish this). Chocolate still tastes bad and while God has a sense of humor, she at least answers a prayer somewhere along the way.

And you know, slowly but surely, I am kind of getting used to it. I have tried to casually munch on chocolate flavored snacks with some success (i.e. huge glass of milk in the other hand at all times). I can eat black beans if the ratio is like 1 black bean to 30 grains of rice. Guac, well, spray a little hot sauce on the puke like substance and suddenly eating food that appears to be regurgitated ain´t half bad. And tomatoes, again, nothing a bit, or a lot, of salt, pepper, and other ingredients can’t hide from my taste buds.

In other news, just to show I am not a total sell out, eureka struck while we were camping on Christmas day. Emily, my fellow Jesuit trained friend in my community was snacking on marshmallows with peanut butter which gave me the solution chocolate haters who love camping have been searching for probably for ages: a tasty s’more, without the chocolate. And so friends, may I reveal the grand recipe only here on my blog, with a bit of a disclaimer first… I did an extensive google search with several spellings of the word s’more and while a couple people cleverly included recipes that include the marshmallow, crackers, peanut butter and chocolate, I have yet to find anyone that says screw the chocolate and just make what I will simply label as the ¨My Peanut Butter is Better Than Your Chocolate S’more¨:

2 Graham Crackers
1 or both crackers slapped in peanut butter
1 Marshmallow (toasted to your preference)

So when the weather warms up or over the fireplace in your homes, try it out, and find the bliss you’ve been denied of, if you hate chocolate. And if you like Chocolate, well, keep your mouth shut the world is on your side! When was the last time you ever went to a birthday like party and the cake did not have some form of chocolate in it or accompanying it? Exactly! (=

Monday, December 18, 2006

Chileans: They speak so fast, even when they think they are speaking slow

She opened up her mouth to speak and I swear it sounded something like “ahahejaha JA JA JA hgdah… cachai?” I nervously looked around to gage the response of the others in the group, and as they laughed and gave what appeared to be a detailed response, I resigned to pretending to understanding her as well. Apparently my bluff did not work so well.

“Daniela, there are gringos in the group, say it slower.” A bitter defeat but at least one that opened the door to the mother victory of victories, saying I understood and meaning it. Unfortunately, as Daniela smiled and audibly apologized that she forgot, the words out of her mouth, call it the SLOWED DOWN FOR THE GRINGO version were equally alarming… “ahahejaha JA JA JA hgdah… cachai?”Cachai is Chilean for you know? Needless to say, I don’t know!

And so the rest of my day became an art in theater, a failure in language. I smiled and laughed, studied cues from others around me and responded with the least amount of words possible. In Bolivia I got to a point where my Spanish was not perfect, but I could get by pretty good. Chile is a different world, different game, the mantra always went. I believed it, but I never knew it would be so dramatic.

They drop the s off the end of all their words so the sentence “the women (plural) have two bottles of beer but no more wine, but I suppose that’s life right?” sounds something like “la mujere tienen do ma bottela de cerveza y no ma vino pero supongo que e la vida cachai?” My Spanish speaking friends if you will, humor me and repeat that out loud, but repeat it as though it is on fast forward… Bienvanido a mi vida, welcome to my life!

There are words here that are common but not used in other Latin American countries and words that are used in every other Latin American country that just don’t really make it down to Chile.

And worst of all, they speak like that guy at the end of a radio commercial that rapidly in a fast forward like motion declares that “prices and participation may vary, etc…” and that speed, for Chileans is normal. I never knew the human mouth had the ability to express language in the speed Chileans do. Last Thursday the smile was unmistakable as Daniela spoke, it was that reassuring look that said don’t worry, we’ll slow down until you’re up to speed. She couldn’t see the look of fear clouded behind my Oscar nominated smile, the realization that will haunt my next few months in Chile” even when they think they are speaking slow, it’s just so damn fast!” Three months in the Bolivian jungles never prepared me for the communication Chilean jungle. And yet, after a few months of this life you get to that point where you learn that life isn’t always about being the one to know it all, sometimes you just got to smile and laugh at yourself, a habit as regular as sleeping in my life. Cachai?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Speaking in Public: In Spanish

I do not get nervous when I am preparing to speak to a crowd of people. I am a freak of nature I suppose: I hate chocolate, find great joy in running, and relish the opportunity to speak in front of 10´s or thousands of people.

I remember leaving the United States and sitting in that Miami airport with two thoughts preoccupying my mind. I think when we are going through a shocking transition our brain has a beautiful and uncanny ability to not focus on what might be too much for us and instead allow us to preoccupy ourselves with rather trivial matters. For me that day, holding a bottle of Odwala juice in my hand and a speech by Greg Boyle in the other, I feared two things: I won´t taste orange juice this good for two years and perhaps more frightening yet, I will never be able to speak in public like I did back at LMU, back in Albuquerque.

We all have talents and sometimes they are obvious. The really good athlete finds little room to hide on the court or field and the intelligent student is reinforced every 9 to 18 weeks with a piece of paper that can speak volumes with one vowel: A+. I was one of those kids that went through high school generally OK at everything but great at nothing and it was not until college that I realized what my talent was: public speaking. I have given several speeches over the years from crowds of 10 to 2,000, and almost every time is without a script and oddly enough, without a fear.

But coming to South America, I was not prepared for many of the realities that would greet me but I was sadly, ready for one: It would take months, years, or maybe I would never reach a point where I could speak with the same clarity I spoke with in English. Hindered by grammar and a lack of vocabulary, how could I ever move a crowd like I had in the past? I just discovered my talent, and now I thought I was sidelining it for two years and feared even more if I would ever be able to recover it…

And so sitting in the conference room at the language institute looking at this crowd of eyes looking back at me I felt like laughing and crying as for the first time in months, that old feeling crept back into my body. Here I was facing a group of Spanish speakers, about to tell them what my service journey means to me. It would be a short speech, all of about five minutes, but as my mouth opened to give my first speech in a foreign language, my heart skipped a beat with an ever joyous and unbelievable clarity: I am ready.

I still do not speak Spanish correctly. I get the verb tenses wrong (for God´s sake there are 14!), am short on my vocab by about 40,000 words (according to mi MINI dictionary), and mix basic sentence structures up because I am translating from English to Spanish rather than just speaking. When I spoke to this group though, I did not speak from a mind that was busy trying to translate words from one language to another: I spoke from my heart, incorrect verb tenses, simple words and all. I spoke with a belief that became a desire to reach these people despite the many barriers that stood between us. Words from the heart coupled with a genuine and sincere conviction in what it is you want to say and I am convinced you can still reach people, still move them to feel what you are feeling.

In a volunteer life more often than not defined by the humbling recognition of our inabilities, I had my five minutes to shine, my five minutes that taught me what might be the most valuable Spanish lesson I will receive here in Bolivia: if you want to communicate with people, search less in the textbook, and more in your heart where language has the ability to become universal. I'm listening to Kite by U2 at this moment and can´t help but scream out the lyrics with Bono ¨I'm a man, not a child! Whose to say where the wind will take you, whose to say what it is will break you, I don´t know where the wind will blow!¨

I made a connection a few nights ago, I gave my first ¨discurso¨ in Spanish, and throwing humility out the window, it felt frickin great! And if that weren´t enough, the juice is even better out here, and a hell of a lot cheaper! (=

Please remember to shop smart this Christmas and read the blog about Christmas about 2 or 3 entries back now.