Why They Call Me Carlos

We’ll get back to our nutrition series shortly, but first I have to answer a question that came up at our party Friday night. Everyone wants to know why some people call me “Charles” and some call me “Carlos.” So… here’s the story…

I took a year off in between graduating from Fort Mill High in May of 2003 and starting undergrad at Winthrop in August of 2004. If my reasons for enlisting in the Army would take a chapter to explain, my reasons (and subsequent stories) for taking a year off would take an entire book. But we’ll focus on the piece central to the nickname.

In January of 2004, I went to the Central American country of Honduras for several months to live in a rural community, La Cañada, and assist in work on the housing project they had undertaken. La Cañada is located in the department (state) of La Paz, just outside the capital city, La Paz- about a three hour bus ride from the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. Some friends of mine, Tim and Gloria Wheeler, had arranged for me to stay in an old, vacated, run-down dormitory just next to the work site. I would spend all of my time there helping one man, Annibal, and his family build a new house.

The  whole first month I was there, my days were spent walking down to the river for sand and gravel. The walk took about half an hour each way, although I’m sure the distance was not that great. I suppose I should use the term half hour stroll instead- we never seemed to be in a rush, meandering down the old trail to the river at a pace that would allow one to fully enjoy the beautiful mountainous landscape. We would lead two or three donkeys, who were never in much of a rush either. The trail lead through a section of thick underbrush, wound around a slight slope, and opened at the bottom to either a path through a field of tall yellow grass or continued on a sort of old road to a spot further up the river.

At first, we made trips for gravel (I would later discover that I hated making trips for gravel- I would much rather make trips for sand). Gravel was both hard to come by and hard to load. There was a rocky section of the river that had a large sandbar beside it. At several places throughout the sandbar there were pockets of pebbles that were small enough to be called gravel. Unfortunately, there were not many pockets, and the ones we did find were not that plentiful. When we found a patch, Annibal and I would arduously fill large burlap sacks with our precious gravel, while his children would hold the sacks open for us. Once we’d filled four or six sacks, the gravel was loaded onto the donkeys, one bag each side in order to balance the load. We would then begin winding our way back to the work site to unload (the donkeys took much more encouragement to go up hill with loads on.)

We were usually able to make three trips in the morning and two or three trips in the afternoon. Before long we had a sizable pile of gravel next to our work site, and so we began retrieving sand instead of gravel. Although the sand was much more plentiful, and far easier to load, we needed a LOT more of it. As the days faded into weeks, we slowly-but-surely amassed enough sand to begin construction.

Everything was done by hand. We dug the foundation by hand (at one point we unearthed a rather large tarantula, which freaked me out- Annibal just laughed and threw dirt at it). We gathered the large stones for the foundation by hand. I learned the art of mixing concrete by hand- after we passed the sand through a homemade screen, we mixed in several shovel loads of concrete, formed our dry mixture into a volcano, poured a lake of water into our volcano, and folded the mixture upon itself until we achieved the right consistency. All of it was incredibly labor intensive, and none of it was rushed.

Life in Honduras was extraordinarily simple. I woke up when the sun would pierce the window over my bed. I would work hard all day under a beautiful blue sky. I would spend the late afternoon alone with my thoughts, and I would fall asleep soon after the sun settled down for the night. No phones. No computers. No TV. No one who spoke English. It was a bit lonely at first, but once I adjusted to being so isolated, it was an absolutely amazing experience. Completely unplugged. No pressures. No stress. No worries. Those few months will always be one of the happiest periods of my life.

Just before I left the country, my father came down with a volunteer medical team, which was headed for some rural communities in northern Honduras. I met him at the San Pedro Sula airport (where he mistook me for a Honduran), and traveled with the team for the following week, assisting as a translator where I could. A lot of Hondurans can’t pronounce “Charles,” and so I always introduced myself as “Carlos.” Dad loved this, and was impressed at how comfortable I had become in rural Honduras. Even after our return to the States, he continued calling me Carlos.

My time in Honduras had an enormous impact on my life. The summer following my first year at Winthrop, my fraternity and I would end up raising $10,000 to send several of our brothers to Honduras to continue working on the housing project I had been a part of. The next year, I would return for another month’s stay, this time in Copan, near the Mayan ruins. I love being there. I love the elegant beauty of the serenely simple life.

Once I started college, I kept introducing myself as Carlos. Dad might have been calling me Carlos at home, but the real reason it stuck was because I started claiming it as my name. I liked to be reminded of my time there. I always saw the name as symbolic of the identity I developed during my work.  And I liked to tell the stories.

My Army experience was predictably vastly different- everyone just called me “Bergman.” And by the time I’d made it to grad school in Charleston, Honduras was such a distant memory that I switched back to introducing myself as Charles. I have friends who call me one, the other, or both… I’ll answer to either. But that’s the story of why they call me Carlos.