Number of People with Nothing Better to Do

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Gringo of 2 Meters Can't Hide

Playing Volleyball
One of the nice things about living in a big American city is you can slip into the street and walk around in relative anonymity. That is not the case here in my little town of 1200 people where everyone knows everyone. Since I’m a gringo de dos metros, I get a lot more attention than the average Jose. Most of the time it’s pretty cool. When I walk through the streets, everyone greets me “Hola Beto!!”. Kids run up and say hey and ask me how you say this or that in English. Adults stop me to chit chat about nothing in particular. How about this heat? Cold isn’t it? Que tal las nenas? (How are the girls?) is always a good one. Sometimes I frighten people with my height. The other day I walked into the health post. As I entered, a little girl was running around, playing and ran up next to me unaware that I was there. She looked up, let out a terrifying, blood curdling scream and ran away screaming into her mother’s arms. Another little girl mentioned to me casually as I was walking through the street, “Mi mamá dice que me vas a comer” (My mom says you’re going to eat me).

The Peace Corps is 24/7 in that you’re pretty much under the microscope every time you leave the house, even when you’re in the house. Little towns can be gossipy so everything you do, whether good or bad is fodder for the gossip circles. My town had a volleyball tournament a while back. I wasn’t playing for any team but after the official matches were over, a buddy of mine and I and few of the local gays played a pick-up game. There were probably about 50 townsfolk that came out to watch the tournament and many of them stayed around to watch the gringo and the gays play. Now I haven’t played volleyball in years so I had my buddy set me a few practice spikes. My timing wasn’t, well, good - at all. The first set, I jumped up for the spike, completely whiffed and wound up tangled up in the net. Everyone in the place burst out laughing at me. I rarely get embarrassed because I’m pretty good at laughing at myself but I was downright ashamed and wanted to crawl under a rock. Second time exact same thing, whiff, tangle, finger pointing, roaring laughter. There were whispers among the spectators. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I’m pretty sure it was something like - This 2-meter gringo is f*ckin’ AWFUL at voley. I finally started to find my timing and was able to at least make contact.

When we started playing the game I got into a bit of a groove and felt a bit more confident. My first real good solid spike the crowd was like “Damn!!!” And started clapping and cheering. I had several other good spikes to more cheers and applause. The following week, the tourney continued and I went to watch. One team was getting blown out so they were looking to put someone else in. There was a buzz in the crowd and people kept looking at me. Come to find the next day from my host mom that word was out on the street that I could play and everyone wanted to see me play again. But I was clueless at the time and didn’t play.

“Life in the fish bowl” is kind of a pain in the ass is when you don’t want to talk to anyone, you just want to go where you’re going and be left alone. For example, when I’m trying to catch a bus to go out of town for vacation or whatever I don’t want to explain where I’m going or what I’m doing. For as much as I like traveling, I don’t like the actual getting there part. I’m not built for this country and don’t fit into the local means of transportation - busses, cars, mototaxis, etc. The thought of getting on hot-ass, cramped bus where I have to pay a lot of attention to my surroundings so my shit doesn’t get robbed puts me in a bad mood and I don’t want to talk to anyone. But you put on a grin say hey to everyone and go with it.

Now I kind of know how feels to be Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. OK, maybe more like Carrot-Top.

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