The International Language of Sport

When getting off the “gringo trail” in any Spanish-speaking country, it’s hugely advantageous to have at least a slight handle on the language. To give you an indication of the amount of Spanish that Terra (my Nicaragua travel partner and current boyfriend) speaks— upon our arrival he asked me how to say, “No.” Ok then, I thought, it looks like my high school Spanish is all that stands between us and various traffic violations and/or mystery meat. Brace yourselves.

So when we stumbled upon a pickup basketball game at the Red Cross on the outskirts of Granada, and Terra said that he was going to drop in and play, I thought, “Oh, this should be good.”

All eyes were on us as we made our way courtside—apparently there aren’t many ghostly pale redheaded women watching their games on the regular. After a quick scan, Terra saw his “in,” a 15-year-old shooting on the opposite court from the competition, and started rebounding for the kid. When he missed a shot, Terra stepped back and took one. When either made it, they got the ball back. The unspoken rules were exactly the same as at home; it was pretty remarkable.

After about 10 minutes of this warm-up, Terra felt ready for primetime. He approached the short guy who seemed to be the master organizer, and after a series of hand gestures, chest pointing, and a quick side convo that included “¡Muy alto!” Terra was assigned to a team. Without speaking a word of Spanish, he picked up on the rules:

  • Game to 5 baskets
  • Must win by 3
  • No need to clear the ball to the 3-point line after a missed shot and change of possession, just step outside the key
  • Play dirty if you’re under 5’7”

All the typical characters were there: the flat-footed over-shooter, the athletically gifted hot head, the grabby defender, the boy who cries “foul!” It was comforting, really. In the late afternoon heat, Terra’s team trudged through three back-to-back wins. It wasn’t until everyone was thoroughly drenched in sweat and the bugs reached a critical level that we decided to head out. With a quick “adios,” we left our basketball enthusiast friends. Games won: 3, Spanish words spoken by participant: 1. Pretty impressive.

By the end of our two weeks, Terra had picked up a handful of words including: hola, gracias, sí, baño, puente (bridge), and la cuenta (the check). He’s still convinced that a ferretería is a cafeteria that serves ferrets, and I’m going to just let that one lie. It will surely make for interesting dinner conversation down the road.


12 didn’t stand a chance.



    • Mom on August 13, 2014 at 8:53 am
    • Reply

    well done baby!

  1. 12 has only 10 fingers 🙁

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