Although I’ve visited the home twice before, I knew going into this trip that there were parts of the ranch I hadn’t yet discovered. There are simply some things that you don’t notice at nine or even twelve years old, and three years is a long time to learn a lot. In that time, for one, I’ve taken two years of Spanish. Ask any of the travelers and they will tell you how useful it is, or how they wished they knew more. To be clear, I am far from fluent and I rely on hand gestures like most everyone else – but there are finally some things I can say and understand.
During the previous two trips, I enjoyed playing with the five and six-year-old pequeños almost exclusively. I was able to use my very limited Spanish as an excuse for how much I didn’t want to interact with older pequeños and potentially embarrass myself in front of people who were my age. I told myself, and others, I shouldn’t even try and that way I didn’t have to do anything that made me uncomfortable. This time, I had no such excuse, and I’ve learned that was for the better.
On the first night, there was a dance night held in a play shelter by the workshops, which are known as talleres. A couple of guys dragged down the speakers and played music from what they set up on the small corner stage. At San Cristobal – the visitor’s house – Amber and I were debating whether to go dance or to rest for the night, and decided we had to at least see what it was about because we could always leave early.
We showed up about fifteen minutes after the official start time and saw that on one side of the shelter the visitors sat on some benches, and on the other there were a few pequeños of all ages. Most were still trickling in, so we found some space to sit with the visitors. Eventually, there was a good number of people on the benches and we figured that we couldn’t leave right then, because we’d be the only movement on the dance floor and everyone would see us bail. Some might even follow our lead, and what a party that would be.
So we waited, and after a bit, the tiniest pequeños from Casa Suyapa arrived and found their place with their tias on the benches. Amber and I decided then that if we didn’t get this party started, it wasn’t going to happen. We dance-walked over to the tiniest pequeños and held our hands out in invitation. A couple of antsy pequeñas took them, and we started a circle in the middle of the shelter. The rest of the pequeños watched, looking a bit bored.
The whole time, I could see the older pequeños on their benches and I really wanted to ask them to dance, so I churned it over in my head. What would I say? How do I approach them? What if they say no? I knew that if I could figure out the answer to any of these questions – and unlike my last two trips, I could – I’d be more likely to actually end up dancing with them that night. But fear won over as I worried that their rejection would be a lot harsher than the five-year olds, and I didn’t try to answer them.
After about five minutes, hopping with tiny pequeños gets old, and by that time there was enough happening that Amber and I could sneak off. As I fell asleep that night I heard the music, still blaring, along with some shouting and air horns. I was content knowing that the older pequeños had some fun, even if it wasn’t with their visitors.
On Wednesday, there was built-in time for families to play with their godchildren, and visitors without godchildren were paired up with other pequeños. I was paired up with a 13-year-old girl, and once again, I was worried about embarrassing myself. The same questions came up: what do I say? What do we do? What if it goes wrong? Luckily, I remembered this girl from earlier that day, when the group was touring the talleres. I knew she worked in the taller de belleza, or the beauty workshop, and to the best of my ability I asked her about it. As we walked to the shelter, I struggled through where I was from, how old we were, and what we like to do.
Amber was paired with a cute pequeña from Casa Suyapa, and they molded different animals from play dough, which didn’t require much conversation. I suggested to my pequeña that we play Uno, not knowing any of the rules to the ranch’s very intense version. In the beginning we didn’t talk much, but we laughed when she shuffled the wrong way, when I thought a 9 was a 6, and when she won for about the third time.
After a few minutes her friend Pablo stopped by and sat by her while we played. They talked about something I didn’t understand (I might have if it was slower) and laughed together. Like the end of the dance night, I was content knowing she was having fun, even if it wasn’t with me. I talked a bit with Amber while we played, and she talked with Pablo.
By the time Pablo left, I had a pretty good grasp of the ranch rules – but still never won. Another one of her friends stopped by at the end of a game so I dealt her in, and that’s when I was exposed to real Ranch Uno in action. I must have not been playing it right before, because by the second turn of that game, her friend got a +8 was standing over the table while she played. I managed to keep up with a few words of Spanish.
Certain words were thrown around after wild cards, +2s, and swap hands (I’ll just say that my vocabulary has expanded), and that’s when cultural boundaries really started to disappear, and I really had fun. I didn’t talk much, but I knew what they were saying, and I followed the game. Our scheduled time together flew by. Although that time was organized, and I didn’t have an alternative activity, I’m glad that I could devote some of my limited time in Honduras to doing something that pushed me out my comfort zone, and to something I had avoided the last two trips. It’s a challenge for next time, too, to spend more time with older pequeños and to work on what Spanish I’ll know by then.