Monday, July 04, 2005

Las Olimpiadas

Last night, after some rousing renditions of The Star Spangled Banner, My Country ´Tis of Thee, and about every vaguely patriotic song we know, the volunteers--without regard to homeland--devoured hot dogs, French fries, potato salad, and deviled eggs (or, as I tried to explain them to the Hondurans, huevos del Diablo). We huddled around 2 little American Flags and reminisced about Fourths past. Even the Germans celebrated by drinking American beer. It was a boisterous, happy celebration, but a little sad, too, as we thought of our friends and families attending barbeques, picnics, and fireworks without us. Though none of us profess to be the most patriotic, we all miss our country, our home, and all the luxuries and opportunities that go along with being an American. We know our privilege better now.

Our celebration was a bit haphazardly put together, thanks to a Ranch event held on Friday and Saturday, The Olympics or Las Olimpiadas. Las Olimpiadas are an annual event, awaited by the kids with more anticipation than a birthday. We had been planning for over a month, attending horrible meetings that always started at least 40 minutes late and accomplished nothing. In typical Honduran fashion, we waited until the week before the event to planning our dance routine, t-shirts, cheer, banner, flag, and mascot. This meant days and nights of gluing seahorses on t-shirts, painting seahorses on a banner the size of a bedsheet, forming a wire seahorse for our mascot, and putting lots of blue glitter on everything.

Our team was called Los Caballitos de Mar, or (yep, you guessed it) The Seahorses. The entire Ranch was divided into 18 teams, all named for animals in danger of extinction. Friday night, we had a night of presentations. Each group performed a dance and presented their flag and mascot. We wore our matching t-shirts which looked like blue tie-dye and the silhouette of a seahorse on the back. The dance routines featured lots of booty-shaking and some questionable costumes, but some amazing mascots and incredible dance moves. Our mascot was a wire seahorse, bigger than a person, covered in colored plastic with lights inside. It had to be carried on poles by 4 people. The event lasted from 6 until 10 pm. Afterwards, we all rushed home to bed in order to be fresh and energized for Saturday´s games.

We began Saturday with a typical Honduran breakfast of beans, plantains and mantequilla (liquidy sour cream). Then, a special Mass at 8 to kick off the games. Before I knew it, we were passing trays with full glasses of water, climbing through obstacle courses, running on plastic covered with soap and water, and running on stilts. And then there was the one game heralded by all as the best . . . La Lucha de Tirones, Tug-of –war.

You all know this game. 2 groups, one on each side of the rope, pull until one group tires and lets go or falls over. It is the same idea here, but with a new twist. Some clever person decided that mud would be a nice touch. Mud. Stinky, swampy, Honduran river mud. This tug-of-war was staged in a pit filled with mud up to our knees. You can imagine the aftermath. The rest of the day, I walked around, muddied from head to toe feeling like something from a bad horror movie.

The games ended around 4:30. We hobbled back to our rooms, muddy, bruised, bug-bitten, and exhausted. After a 20 minute cold shower that got most of the mud off, we enjoyed a special dinner of carne asada, refried beans, cheese, rice, and chimol salsa. After dinner (yes, the day just kept going), there was a dance where the winners were announced. The Seahorses took 11th, I hate to admit. The dance lasted until early morning, but I didn´t last that long. Neither did most of the younger kids who fell asleep outside the dance, using the brick wall as a pillow.

Whew. As much as I loved Las Olimpiadas, I am glad to see them go and return to a relatively meeting-free and mud-free life for a while. The new batch of volunteers have been appearing one by one. Soon, the old volunteers will leave it to us to keep the kitchen dirty and the hallways of Casa Personal un-mopped. July will be a month of hellos and goodbyes, parties (there is always a reason to celebrate) and some tears, too. If we can all survive July, August will be the beginning of our final times here, as “viejos,” the "old" volunteers. And I still feel sometimes as if I just arrived.

Well, Happy Fourth of July, everyone. I am thinking of you, tonight, beneath the fireworks, wherever you are.


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