Ample? Fat? Or something more creative?

“What about this one? How does it look?” His girlfriend considered for a moment, head tilted to the side and lips pursed just a little.

Areperia“I like it, the color is good on you, but you need another size.” The shirt was stretched over his broad chest, and ample frame. This is Venezuela, the land of thick, doughy arepas for breakfast and afternoon snacks, and the man’s intellectual career has him sitting in board rooms and at conference tables around the country. “You need size…”

She turned to search for a larger shirt, but the man shopping next to them was more…helpful.

“You need size half-a-cow” he offered.


This is Venezuela, one of those countries that does not mince words. Whereas I might be left grasping for politely indicative words like “ample”, in Venezuela? They don’t mess around.


The question of which way is better is one for the sages, bores, and dorm room floors, but one thing is for sure: if you’re going to live in a place that’s this direct, you’d better have a good sense of humor.


Luckily for my Venezuelan friend of the substantive girth, he has no problem laughing at himself, and neither does Alvaro, my friend and the program director of the Witness for Peace Southwest delegation that brought me to the country.

Arepa time

No shortage of laughter in this country

But Alvaro is no half-a-cow. What would they hang a nickname on, then? The bushy eyebrows? I am sensitive about that one, after years of people telling me I look angry, when actually I’m just ⅛ Neanderthal. But no, it’s not the brows that the man on the steps of the Cathedral commented on.

At five foot and a few, Alvaro comes up to my shoulder. I always like people who do that, especially after living near Holland, habitat of the humongous. Indigenous people throughout Latin America are frequently vertically modest, but Venezuela is predominantly mestizo, ie descendants of Europeans, with Amerindians making up only 2% of the population.


So Alvaro is short. And the man on the steps noticed. He also noticed the calm confidence and knowledge with which Alvaro was conducting us around Caracas, and he had a question.


“Oye, bonsai Tarzan, which way to the metro?”

Alvaro dancing with his daughter

Alvaro dancing with his daughter


Bonsai Tarzan. That is quite an image. Not one that every altitudinally modest individual might appreciate. Alvaro politely gave the man directions, and off we all went on our days.

Note: Last weekend Alvaro’s house suddenly collapsed (click link for more information). Luckily no one was hurt, but he, his wife, and their five year old daughter are now homeless. I cannot imagine what this would be like. I set up a fundraising page here, and urge you to contribute, even just a few dollars, if you can.


Thank you.