Friday, August 6, 2010

Cultures Collide

Saturday, July 3

At 5:00 this morning I awoke to something nostalgically familiar, yet somehow different. A chorus of childrens' voices echoed across the patio...Isssssss aaaarrr-eeeeee ack, ack, ack.... In my state of pre-dawn grogginess I struggled to place what exactly I was hearing and why it sounded so off. It wasn't until the pat, pat, pat of rhythmic hand clapping reached my ears that I remembered the events of the night before and finally realized what was going on: in search of a good seated game last night after a long day on our feet, I had taught the kids Miss Mary Mack, the generations-old hand clapping game that probably every female in the U.S. can recall at will at any point in her life. The reason it didn't sound quite right was because the singers, not knowing English, had no idea where one word ended and another began. They had heard me sing it enough times to learn the tune and the placement of its more forceful verbal inflections (ack, ack, ack...), but they glossed carelessly over the rest. Simply beautiful.

Lots of work and lots of play followed my cheerful wake up call; in the morning those of us who felt well enough after our epic tour of the mountains yesterday helped Teodoro hack down some of the leguminous trees to use as an erosion barrier in the demonstration cafetal. After lunch we set to work harvesting eight billion Japanese potatoes (give or take a few). As far as I can tell, these Japonesas are nothing but hairy brown beets that produce large, tropical-looking heart-shaped leaves. A short time into our harvest I also discovered that they are quite often inconspicuously filled with a rancid buttermilky ooze that explodes all over your hands at the slightest touch. After a rather ironic afternoon of wiping my froth-covered hands on the dirt to clean them, I must admit that my enthusiasm to try these supposedly creamy nuggets of delectability has waned.

Minutes while working were spent full of answering the never-ending sea of questions that is forever tumbling out of the kids: How do you say árbol en inglés?Do you have a dog? What are your parents names? How do you say their names in Spanish? How do you say my name in English? Do you have any siblings? Do you have any kids? How much does a loaf of bread cost in the U.S.? Will you sing something for us? Speak in English for a long time. What's your house like? When describing my living situation in Boston, I stupidly emphasized that I live in one big house with six roommates, somehow expecting that this knowledge would draw the same reaction from them as it does from everyone at home (Six roommates?! That's a lot...!) I felt sheepish and very spoiled when I remembered that they live in what is most likely a very small house with ten people.

Minutes between work were filled with running, yelling, giggling, and full-on belly laughing as we played pesca! (hide and seek), terremoto (earthquake), colores (colors), juego de la orca (whale game), tag, and of course, Miss Mary Mack. Around mid-day I taught the kids Down by the Banks, another hand-clapping game, so that I could sing something else for a while. Ee-Ee, Ah-Ah, Oh-Oh, Um echoed across the lawn with regularity for the rest of the day. In the evening we added the card game Uno to our growing list of diversions. As we struggled to tell the green cards from blue cards in the flickering amber glow of our solitary candle, the youngsters threw me yet another moment of humility in the form of cultural differences: the game dictates that when an individual plays a wild card, that individual gets to choose which color cards will be played by the other players. In America, he who holds the power makes the's all about the win. With this family, the child who held the wild-card polled the other players to determine which color would be best for all. If a majority wanted Red, Red was chosen even if the wild-card holder held no red cards. Clearly these kids are used to sharing.

At the end of the day, Cooper asked me if I would be the Madrina of his youngest daughter, Claudia. Fully aware of the request and the responsibility this time, I accepted...grateful for the opportunity it would afford me to remain in contact with this charming, generous, loving, and wonderful group of people.

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