Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…
I’m glad many of
my friends are bilingual so slipping from one language into the other, often in
mid sentence, is no problem. I admit that picking the first word that comes to
mind no matter the language, does tend to make you a bit lazy. At the same
time, you also tend to pick the words that best describe what you want to
express, so effective it is. I also love the English words that have
“contaminated” proper Honduran Spanish (if such thing exists) and that have
started living a life of their own. Cheque,
for example. No Copaneco can come by without using that word at least once
an hour. I guess it comes from the English word check (as in “done”), but here it means something like “okay”, and
is often followed by leque. Cheque leque.
of mine is wachimón (watchman or
guard). Tools and car parts have terrific “spanishized” names (mofles, cloch, rines), not to mention the
social media such as Feisbuh, that
for some odd reason in Copán is referred to as Ceibo.
I once had a
conversation with someone from Guatemala
about the influence of English on Spanish spoken in Central
America. I told him about the emergency I had one time with the
breaker in my house, and that I’d realized I didn’t know the Spanish word for
it. It happened to be bréquer. To
which my Guatemalan friend said he could do better: in Guatemala it’s
There are so many
great examples, but I think some of the best and “purest” completely Spanglish sentences
are the following:
Years ago, a
friend lent me a book called Rules of the
Wild*, by Francesca Marciano. She said I had to read it, that it was so us,
cleaned out my closet because the rain had found its way into my bookshelves,
and among tons of usable crap I found the copy I once made of the first page of
Rules of the Wild.The first sentence struck me as much as it did
about ten years ago, and is still so true:
way everything here is always second hand.
The whole page actually
is. I never read a better description of what livening as a foreigner in Copán is like, so hereby the first few paragraphs of Rules of the Wild:
In a way everything here is
always second hand.
will inherit a car from someone who has decided to leave the country, which you
will then sell to one of your friends. You will move into a new house where you
have already been when someone else lived there and had great parties at which
you got incredibly drunk, and someone you know will move in when you decide to
move out. You will make love to someone who has slept with all your friends.
will never be anything brand-new in your life.
a big flea market; sometimes we come to sell and sometimes to buy. When you
first came here you felt fresh and new, everybody around you was vibrant, full
of attention, you couldn’t imagine ever getting used to this place. It felt so
foreign and inscrutable. You so much wanted to be part of it, to conquer it,
survive it, put your flag up, and you longed for that feeling of estrangement
to vanish. You wished you could press a button and feel like you had been here
all your life, knew all the roads, the shops, the mechanics, the tricks, the
names of each animal and indigenous tree. You hated the idea of being foreign,
wanted to blend in like a chameleon, join the group and be accepted for good.
Didn’t want to be investigated. Your past had no meaning; you only cared about
the future. Obviously, you were mad to think you could get away without paying
enough, this isn’t about Copán, but about Nairobi,
either way we gringo’s are all the same, or the world is just a very small place. Or
maybe it isn’t about a place at all. Which reminds me of a remark made by the
same friend who lent me the book:
Copán is a state of mind.
This one is, of
course, for Flavia…
* Rules of the Wild, Francesca Marciano,
Vintage, 1999Great book, buy it!