Big ‘Ol Double Post

Out With the Old

Christmas in my town means bull riding, loud music until 2 am, food stalls lining the field across from my house where it all happens, and parades through town at 4 am to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It’s such a strange and exciting mix because the fiestas patronales, or patron saint festivities, happen to overlap with the 25th. Each town has their own week of fiestas patronales, and it’s generally a time for everyone in town to relax, go to parties, drink and socialize. My host family did very little to celebrate Christmas, besides decorating with lights and fake Christmas trees, but they took me to the bull riding events and my little nephew Kenneth happened to be baptized on Christmas day. The baptism was a very nice ceremony, though I was much too busy taking pictures of Bianca and Kenneth, my sister and her son, to pay much attention to what the priest was saying. I posted pictures of the event in my online album, which has a link on the right side of my blog.

Bull Riding Arena

The bull riding was interesting and not nearly as cruel as Spanish bull fighting. Over the course of three weeks, members of the community began constructing two square pens bordering a large square area surrounded by a raised platform for viewing the riding. Near one of the corners in the large area was a tree trunk sunk deep in the ground that they tied the bull to while they outfitted it with little handles that the riders use when they cling on for dear life. While this was happening, the rider would be donning stirrups and pumping himself up. When the bull was ready, those preparing the bull would jump back and quickly undo the special knot used to hold the bull there. The bull usually took off immediately and bucked for about 10 seconds, trying to get the rider off. I would say that about 50% of the time, the bull bucked the guy off, and the rest of the time he hung on until the bull made it’s way over to the door leading back to the holding pen, where it usually calmed down and waited to be let back in. You might be imagining an empty riding area when this is happening, but there was always at least 15 young men, six men on horseback, and usually at least 3 drunks running around in there with the rider, sometimes using capes to provoke the bull, sometimes lassoing the bull in order to take off the handles and lead it back into the pen, and sometimes drunkenly slapping or facing down the bull for reasons unintelligible to the sober. I was fully expecting to see some seriously injured people, but nobody suffered more than some bruises, despite some nasty looking horns and even a horse and rider being knocked over by a bull. The whole event wasn’t quite as action-packed as it sounds, however. I would say that 60% of the time was spent trying to get the bull to cooperate and let itself be outfitted for the riding, 10% was actual bull riding and 30% was people trying their hand at showing off after the rider had finished. I found myself imagining what the bull must be thinking during all of this, and here’s what I came up with:

Munch, munch, munch. Oh, great, the small two legged things want me to move that way. How come it’s only me going? Well, this is inconvenient. I don’t like walking on this naked part of the ground with big noisy rolling machines. They’re taking me far today. Lots of nervous people watching me go by, making funny noises. Here’s a small closed area, and there are lots of loud noises and people. Not much food here, but there are other bulls. Trying to size myself up against them. I could probably take them. What, you wanna go? Yeah, that’s what I thought. If they were in my herd, I’d show them what’s up. We all shove around seeing who’s strongest until the humans riding horses move us into a smaller space and take us out one by one. I wait here, trying to eat some of the grass, pushing around smaller bulls. Then I feel a tug on my horns and I pull back. The tugs get stronger and I start moving out into the bigger space. What are all the people doing here? I let them pull me over to a dead tree and they grab my neck and tie me to it. Don’t like that very much. There’s so small and weak, but they’ve got these strong ropes and they sit on the horses. They’re tying a rope around my middle now. I don’t understWHAT THE!? One of the little things just sat on my back! I’m loose from the tree and I’m trying to kick off the animal. It’s so small, but it’s still there and other two-leggers are running around teasing me. I’ll hit them if they come too close. They’re quick and I don’t care enough to chase them down. I’d rather be back in the smaller space. They pull on my horns again and I feel them take off the rope around my middle. There’s the opening to the space! I jog in to rejoin the other bulls, annoyed at the ordeal. Humans are weird.

As near as I can tell it’s a bewildering, and probably unpleasant, but harmless event for the bulls. There are even bulls that the people know by name because they come back every year to put on the show. The whole tradition feels a bit foreign to me, but then I realize that the US has bull riding too. I guess it’s just me who doesn’t get it.

Other than this week, I’ve been teaching classes and learning a good deal. Since the 24th I haven’t been teaching any classes because the community center has been partly closed, so I’ve been reading and chilling. Lately I’ve read ‘The River Why,’ which was pretty good, though more of a collection of short stories than a novel. Then a package from my parents arrived and I got new books, so I read Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, including The Golden Compass and two others. They were really fun and interesting, though I felt like the author went in a lot of different directions and only resolved a few of them. For New Year’s I’ll be heading back to my training town, Niquinohomo to spend a couple of days with my host family there. I’m looking forward to spending time with them and seeing my fellow volunteers who I trained with, Andrea, Rachael, Joe, Liz and others.

In With the New

Never try to bargain a price for a haircut. I should have thought through that one before walking up to the little barber shop, but I didn’t. I should have taken note of the fact that when I asked for a haircut, it was the guy using an electric drill on metal pieces who got up to give it to me, but I didn’t. What I did do was balk at the $2.50 price tag, comparing it to the previous, $1.25 haircut I had received, and made a counteroffer of $2. I got narrowed eyes, but then a curt nod, and I sat down. Narrowed eyes are the last thing you want to see on a guy equipping razors to wield near your face, spinal cord and aorta. I realized my mistake immediately, and while I didn’t suffer any physical damage, I was silently cursing myself and trying to find a way to communicate to him that I am more than willing to pay $2.50 for your impeccable and, might I say, professional services without letting on that I was terrified. I ended up wanting a bit more off the top, so I quickly said ‘I’ll give you the $2.50 if you take a bit more off’ and felt that we were both more at ease after that point. I ended up with a surprisingly good haircut and valuable lessons about how to approach barber shops in foreign countries.

New Year’s with my training host family was really nice. Apart from losing my cell phone on the bus ride in, everything went smoothly. We had a quiet, pleasant evening on the 31st, chatting and eating and bracing ourselves for the periodic loud cracks of firecrackers. We didn’t do a countdown at midnight, instead gauging roughly the peak of firework frequency and wishing each other a ‘feliz año nuevo.’ Then I went with my host brother, sister, cousin and friends to a bar in a nearby city and went to a bar that had a New Year’s party until about 4 in the morning. It was a really fun time, but I got back exhausted. I was jarred out of a deep slumber just two and a half hours after falling asleep back home by my host mom, telling me that the bus that was to take us to the beach that day was running early and we had to go. I had eagerly agreed the day before to go with Consuelo and my little sis Alicia to a beach on the Pacific coast, even though I knew I’d be out late. After the hour and a half bus ride out there, the day was spent among twenty or thirty extended family members. There was food, drink, big waves, and a strong sun. My memories are of dozing in the shade, eating lunch packed by my mom, playing with Alicia and body surfing in the waves. I overindulged in the sun and surf and am paying for it with a nasty shoulder sunburn, but I had a blast riding in on the waves. The beach was packed, but we had a table and plastic lawn chairs at one of the restaurants along the beach, so it didn’t bother us.

View at the beach

We didn’t get back until after dark, at 7:30 at night and I thought I had been tired the day before. Well, now I was entirely spent, but I still wanted to see a couple of my fellow volunteers who were in town, so I gulped down some ramen noodles (yup, they’re everywhere) and met up with Rachael, Andrea and Sam for a bit. The next morning I cooked a big pancake and French toast breakfast for my fam, which was a big hit, and had a great time chatting with them until I had to leave for ‘home.’ Being back with this family and feeling like I fit right in was a really special experience and made me feel like I have the beginnings of roots here. I hadn’t realized how little has felt deeper than surface here, because we’ve been going at such a fast and furious pace. To find these relationships and connections here is really comforting. Of course they can never replace the ones I have back home, but they make my time here incredibly more welcoming and rewarding. I know that I will develop these bonds in my permanent site too, but I’ve spent three times as long in my training town so far, so it makes sense that I feel it first there.

This week things are picking up a bit more, with two community classes per week rolling out in addition to my morning classes. Next week I’ll be gone for four days at a Peace Corps workshop and in February the school year starts! Like Amanda likes to quote from the movie Almost Famous: ‘It’s all happening.’ 🙂

Spanish Tidbits:

Andar – Andar is a verb that usually means ‘to walk’ but here has many additional meanings. One of my favorite usages is similar to ‘tener’ or ‘to have.’ It works like this (I’m using ‘vos’ grammar here):

¿Andás reloj? Sí, ando reloj. ¿Qué hora es? (Gotta watch? Yeah, I’ve got a watch. What time is it?)

Llamame después. No, no puedo. No ando saldo. (Call me later. No, I can’t. I don’t have minutes.)

No ando reales, así que no puedo comprar gaseosa. (I’ve got no money, so I can’t buy soda.)

¿Andás cámara? Tomá una foto. (Have you got a camera? Take a picture.)


A common greeting in the morning is ‘¿Cómo amaneció?'(formal) or ‘¿Cómo amaneciste?'(informal) meaning literally ‘how did you rise? It’s used in the same way that we ask, in English, ‘How did you sleep?’


One of my favorite sayings is ¡Suave! This is used all the time on buses, but also in any situation where someone wants someone else to be careful or stop. It’s almost always yelled, and would translate roughly to ‘Easy! Easy! Easy!’ when backing up, ‘Stop!’ and ‘Whoa now!’ otherwise. One of the funniest memories I have of my host family during training was when they told me that my brother Payo was sleep-talking on night and yelled ¡Suave!¡Suave!¡Suave! We had a great time speculating as to what its context may have been. 🙂


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Janet Boddy on January 4, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    Andrew – great to hear from you! Sorry Skyping didn’t work out on Sunday, I’m looking forward to when we can next.

    All our guests are now safely home; Beatrice and Guillaume missed their connection in Chicago and didn’t get home until late on Sunday I think. Tyler back at Carleton; Jonnie still here on break until about the 22nd this month. I’m back at work; Village politics are cranking up. Next Monday is Village caucus and I have been asked by several to run for Village President or at least for a post on the board. Many people upset due to the assessments for all the sewer, water and sidewalk work done in the past year or so. The village has postponed major re-work and when we got a grant to cover 25% and a low interest long term loan to cover the rest we went for it. I wasn’t on the board but spoke in favor of it, even though it is very tough for a lot of folks who don’t have good jobs, or any jobs at all. So they all want a new board, but I would have done the same thing if I had been on the board when they voted.

    I’m going to Florida next week to attend a conference with Marty. It will be nice to have a couple of days in warm weather. Leaving on Sunday and getting back on Wednesday.

    Mom and Jonnie went to a movie and dinner tonight.

    Love you,



  2. Posted by Allie on January 4, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    Andrew! Love checking out your blog posts and photos, sounds like you had a fun new year. I’m sorry about the sunburn but glad you’re feeling some real connections there (and amazing your host family with your cooking skills). Miss you, and keep the updates coming!


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