Expressive 1010 1st Place
Professor: Toa Tawa
Somewhere in the Honduran jungle:
“Are you ready? Hurry up!”
“Ah man, I don’t feel like doing anything. This place scares me.”
“Ha ha. Welcome to your new life. You’ll get used to it. But come on! It’s Friday morning. We can’t miss it!”
“What are you so excited about? Are those tacos that important?”
“Trust me. Baleadas will change the way you feel about this place. Give it a shot.”
I started my Honduran life at the young age of nineteen. When I arrived in Honduras, I felt really intimidated to enter the poorest country in the western hemisphere. I remember looking down from the airplane into the dense forest landscape when feelings of loneliness and confusion swept over me like a cold breeze. The forest made me feel like I was in the movie Predator, but this time Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't there to save the day. Luckily, I had mentally prepared myself for these situations long before my travel. Because of these mental preparations, I said to myself, "Welcome to your new life. Get used to it."
Adapting to the jungle life wasn't my only challenge. I soon found out that the language was a huge barrier in my quest to find myself at home. How was I going to survive if I couldn't communicate with the locals? Sure, I tried to prepare myself by studying Spanish as much as I could, but the language was nothing like I expected. I found myself tongue-tied. I was afraid to make the smallest mistake. I didn’t want the people to laugh at me so I kept my mouth shut. This closed-mouth technique did not help me at all in learning the language. So, once again, I said to myself, "Welcome to your new life. Get used to it."
The most immediate change I felt in Honduras was the climate. The heat and humidity were almost unbearable. I would turn on the fan hoping to find an escape from the extreme temperature, but the fan would just blow more hot air. It didn't help. I was constantly sweating. I never realized that water could come out of my skin so quickly. Although a cold shower was always refreshing, just minutes after drying myself off, I found myself drenched again in sweat. My mind flashed back to a few days before my arrival. I was sitting with my Dad in a sauna as we talked. I remember the big smile on his face as he asked me, "Do you like the sauna?"
"Yeah, it’s nice," I replied.
"Well good!" My dad blurted back as he laughed out loud, "Because you're going to be living in one for the next two years!" One day, with the heat and humidity beating down upon my body, I said to myself, "The old fart was right."
I continued to slowly adjust to my new home, but one day I made a breakthrough. It was a Friday morning as my companion and I left the house to eat breakfast when he asked me, "Have you ever eaten baleadas?”
"No. What's that?" I asked.
"They're pretty much like tacos," he said.
I was skeptical to try these new tacos. I figured they would probably be some deep-fried grease bombs like the rest of the native food had been. But I was really sick and tired of having bread and orange juice for breakfast everyday so I decided to give these mysterious tacos a try. As we walked down the street I noticed an old cement house with ugly mint green paint. A small group of people gathered just outside of the house. I said to my companion, "Don't tell me we’re going to that nasty green house over there."
He laughed, "Yep. How’d you know?"
As we approached the house, I heard a strange clapping noise as if someone was applauding. They're probably doing some goofy breakfast dance or something, I thought. “This country is so weird." My comp and I made our way up to the front of the line where we were greeted by a very large, sweaty Honduran woman.
"How many do you want?" She asked.
I couldn't reply. All my attention was focused on her teeth. She had three gold teeth and the rest were completely black. My companion elbowed me.
"Oh, I want two baleadas,” I said still staring. The lady turned around, placed a ball of dough in her hand and started smacking her hands together. After a few loud claps, the dough was in a perfect tortilla formation ready to be cooked. The clapping that I heard was not a goofy breakfast dance at all, but a way of making the famous Honduran tortilla. In just a few minutes, the baleadas were placed in a plastic bag and handed to us. As we walked back to our house, I wasn’t sure what to expect of these new taco things.
I worked up a good sweat by the time we got back to the house. I quickly sat down at the table and said to my companion, "Could you pass me some of those baleadas? I'm starving." He handed me two baleadas and I opened one up. Inside the baleada I found the tortilla smothered in refried beans, scrambled eggs and some sort of cheese that looked like white sand. I started to think the bread and orange juice idea would be a little better.
“Just try it," my companion said.
I closed the baleada and took a bite. The soft flour tortilla melted in my mouth as all the ingredients came together in perfect form.
"Wow! This is great!" I exclaimed. My companion nodded his head as he continued eating. I couldn't believe it. This was probably the best food that I had eaten for months. I quickly ate the first baleada and moved on to the next one. I learned that the secret of the baleada was in the tortilla. It was soft and thick, nothing like the cardboard-flavored tortillas I had eaten in the States.
"This is something that I’m glad to get used to," I said quietly.
I continued to adapt to my new environment. My little inconveniences, as I called them, transformed into milestones that paved the path of who I would become. It wasn't easy, but eventually I became accustomed to the hot climate. I had to set aside the easy and comfortable way of speaking to be able to accomplish bigger goals. I realized my only obstacle was myself. The language took practice, and many mistakes, but soon Spanish seemed to flow off of my tongue. I was able to take another step closer to the culture I had learned to love. For the first time, I felt at home. To celebrate, Friday morning baleadas became a tradition. It was a time to kick back and enjoy what life throws at you. On those Friday mornings, I reflected on the wonderful lessons my new culture had taught me. I looked back at all my old struggles and saw how they had made me strong. I became grateful. I became happy. I became a different person.
One extremely hot June, I received a new companion. He came from the United States. Like many Americans, his first day in Honduras was tough. I smiled as I saw sweat drip off his nose like a leaky faucet and I held back my laughter when I saw him struggle for words. Everything was new to him. Everything was different. He looked confused and far from home. I couldn’t help but think about myself back when I was in his shoes. My companion didn’t realize it in that very moment, but all his current inconveniences would give him the opportunity to become someone greater than he had ever been. I knew it from experience. At the end of his first day, I patted him on his shoulder and said, “Welcome to your new home. You’ll get used to it.”
He said, “It’s so hot. I can’t speak Spanish. I feel lost. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to anything here in this country.”
I laughed, “That’s how I used to feel. You know, tomorrow is Friday. Have you ever had baleadas?”
“No. What’s that?” he asked.
“They’re kinda like tacos.” I said with a smile, “We’ll eat some tomorrow and I promise you’ll start to feel more at home.”