A Funny Thing Happened in the Office of Immigration

March 12, 2013

Dear Fund Your Life Overseas Reader,

It isn’t vital that you speak Spanish when you live or work or start a business in Latin America. You can get by without it.

But when you’re faced with the type of situation Steve endured in Ecuador, it sure does help if you speak some of the local language…

Rob Carry

Editor in Chief, Fund Your Life Overseas

P.S. Learning Spanish doesn’t have to be a long, dull process. Cut down on the hard work with this simple, 20-minute strategy.

IL Masthead

* * *

Of Course You Don’t Have to Speak Spanish:

But Why Wouldn’t You?

By Steve Watkins

It was an hour-long drive to the nearest Office of Immigration. Long enough to imagine the worst of scenarios as we headed north to extend our Ecuador visas. A meeting like this needs to go smoothly—no hiccups. But we were still very much in the process of learning to speak Spanish.

Once we arrived we checked in, took a number, and then spent the 45-minute wait running over all the potential language barrier possibilities.

“Numero cuarenta y siete,” called the receptionist. 47. We were up to bat. I wiped my brow and proceeded down the corridor as various verbs, prepositions and conjunctions ran through my mind.

“Gina, mi Espanol es no perfecto,” I told our case worker before we kicked off. I was hoping to score a few points for being a modest gringo. “No problem,” she responded in her native tongue.

From there we proceeded to navigate the process fairly smoothly. We completed the forms, handed over the documentation…it was all going great. Until it came to a question about my occupation.

“What is your profesión?” asked Gina in Spanish. I searched for the word in my mind so she would understand that I’m a writer.

“Escritor,” I responded.

A moment passed. She seemed surprised and almost more respectful.

“Predicador?” She loudly repeated what she thought she heard me say…loud enough for the entire office to hear.

I looked at my wife, Dana, and she looked at me. “She thinks you’re a preacher,” Dana said.

“Not a preacher, a writer!” I said, “but I suppose I preach a lot when I write.” Everyone in the immigration office burst into laughter. Any sense of nervousness or apprehension vanished, we wrapped up the process and we were out of there within minutes.

It’s the question I’m most often asked by exploring expats: “Do I have to know Spanish to live in Latin America?”

And my response 100% of the time is: No, you don’t have to…but you really should.

Imagine going to your favorite restaurant on a Friday night and ordering a succulent dish. You’ve been anticipating this all week, and finally the waiter places the steamy, savory platter before you.

But wait. All you can do is smell it. No tasting allowed.

For me, that’s the equivalent of not knowing Spanish in Latin America. Why would you pursue half an experience when with just a little effort, you can have the whole empanada?

I’m a blue-eyed, fair-skinned American whose appearance screams “gringo,” the moment I walk into a room. No one in Ecuador expects perfect Spanish from me, but I know they respect me for making the effort.


What Arkansas’ First Congressional District Needs Again

Four things, I submit.

1. Someone who has a passion for public service, not the perks of the job.

2. Someone who speaks as an independent voice, a representative of the people, not a manipulated party puppet.

3. Someone who bridges the gap between black, white, Hispanic, rich and poor. Someone who embraces diversity.

4. Someone who “gets” that the background of the First Congressional District is rooted in the forward thinking of entrepreneurial farmers, under-paid, under-valued teachers, and senior citizens who’ve given us all a legacy of hope and opportunity.


Full Disclosure:

Former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR)

I spent nearly four years working alongside Congressman Marion Berry as a press secretary, and later as a district director. In the years leading up to that privilege, I was a newspaper reporter with a love for following those invested in public service, Blanche Lincoln among them.

And I’ll tell you what Arkansas‘ First Congressional District needs again. We need a public servant, a representative in Congress who follows the example set forth by Marion Berry and Blanche Lincoln.


Three weeks ago today, Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington (D-AR) ended his bid to recapture the traditionally Democratic held seat representing nearly a million people. I voted for Ellington, not that I know him personally. We’ve met a few times and I gauged him to be one who fit the mold of Berry and Lincoln. Whether it was an inadequately run campaign, or just bad timing, we may never know, but I think we missed a good opportunity to get the First District going again.


Berry and Lincoln were quite different, yet very much alike.

To each of those one million constituents, she was Blanche. He was Marion.

That’s what I loved the most about them.

Over the years, Lincoln developed a strong skill set in constituent relations.

Former U.S. Rep. and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR)

People loved her. But she was more than just a pretty face. Blanche Lincoln was an effective public servant. She got things done.

Berry, on the other hand, was never a slick, tell-you-what-you-want-to-hear kind of guy. What you saw was what you got. I quit, early on, trying to morph him into something he was not. It couldn’t be done, and no one should have ever tried.  Berry got the job done. His advocacy for all of us built roads and overpasses, put clean, running water in rural towns, beat down every ridiculous regulation he could that would aggravate the already lopsided odds against farmers everywhere. Not a great politician was Berry, (and it was never his aspiration) but a magnificent and tireless public servant.

Can we say that’s what we enjoy today in the First Congressional District? A warrior who stands in the gap, and on our behalf?

If not, who?

And, when?


Southbound: To the Middle of the World

Camera – check.

Kindle with 6 episodes of The Sopranos – check.

Clothes that SCREAM American tourist – check.

Plane tickets – check.

Rental car – check.

Cool shades – check.

Sunscreen – check.

Flip flops – check.

Jonesboro-Memphis-Miami-Guayaquil-Puerto Cayo.

Let’s do this thing.

T-5 hours and headed for a great 10-day adventure to Latitude Zero. See you on the equator!

Only 7,000 miles to go!

What These Numbers Say to Me…

One of the best things that has blessed my life over the last couple of months has been the opportunity to re-connect with my best friend from high school.

Because of circumstances that are just too complex to explain in one post, I’ll just say there was a period of some 20 years when we lost touch and never even spoke. We weren’t angry with one another. We were just estranged…

My best, most loyal buddy, Brady Cornish (left).

About two months ago when it became obvious my dad had only days left to live, I called my estranged friend and told him I was going to need him soon. He said, let me know when you need me, and I’ll be there … and so he was.

Our relationship picked up immediately where it left off. It was as if time never passed. Now let me explain to you the importance of this relationship. If need be, Brady and I would cut our own hearts out and hand it to the other if that’s what was needed to help the other. That’s the depth of our friendship and I treasure it beyond what words might say.

We’ve shared a lot of “catching up” time lately, and yesterday I went to church with my friend at Mount Pleasant General Baptist Church, where some might say is “smack dab in the middle of nowhere.”

What a great experience to go back to the area where I was raised and see so many friends in their home church – worshiping where countless of their own generations have worshiped before them.

It’s a simple white wood structure with a modest steeple – no electronic billboards, no multi media mega screens, no rock the house praise and worship bands – just a small group of people coming together to hear the Word.

Most nostalgic to me was the photo you see here at the top of this post. The “display of numbers” you might say that reminds me of the very church I attended also “in the middle of nowhere” when I was a small child. We had one just like it at Macey United Methodist Church.

A few thoughts on what these numbers said to me.

  • At the bottom, notice the modest building fund goal, and the number where that goal currently stands. It’s important to have a vision and to regularly evaluate that vision. As we reach toward a goal such as this, we should celebrate milestone victories along the way.
  • Notice the day’s giving as it relates to the previous week and the correlation in church attendance from the previous week to yesterday. Attendance yesterday was one person more than the previous week, but the giving skyrocketed. The takeaway? Yes, one person can make a difference.
  • And the day’s attendance in itself? Do you see that? 27 people. Just 27. A small group of committed people CAN make a difference. I’ll bet you that almost every one of those folks came up (and as we say in the South) “hugged my neck,” just for being there.
  • And about that building fund goal – they are not there yet, but they are making progress. You keep pushing. You stay the course. You keep the faith. And God will provide.

At Mount Pleasant General Baptist Church “in the middle of nowhere,” they get it.

Thanks to my friend for welcoming me to his church, for showing me these lessons, and for just being there, as he always was, and always will be. Love you, my good buddy.

Seismic Testing & Gut Checks

I always wanted to do this. This is me in 2010 under the Big Sky of Montana during a period when I was going through a major gut check.

I hope you have a dream, and if you do, I hope you are pursuing that dream, now.

There have been quite a few in my own life, there are some now, and I know there are others yet to come.

Thank God He gives us dreams, visions, hope for a future.  The God of All Creation loves the creative collective minds of His children.

But you know, God doesn’t always speak clearly to me about dreams. A few times (maybe just a handful) He’s given me guidance with crystal clarity on things I needed to pursue, OR those from which I needed to distance myself. But by and large, He typically leaves it to me to explore the possibilities for myself.

And I’ve found there are two methods I can use to make a decision on pursuing huge dreams or every-day tasks of a smaller magnitude.

I can do some seismic testiing, or go with a gut check.

Credit for the phraseology here goes to author/entrepreneur Bob Buford, creator of “HalfTime.” As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, his book is one that has had a profound influence on the way in which I view the “second half” of my life. Buford talks at length about seismic testing, or low-risk measures we can take and with which we can experiment before making a major decision – especially a potentially life-changing one.

Unbeknownst to be, I’d been working through the various exercises of seismic testing just about all my life, but I simply called it, “dipping my toes in the water.” Seismic testing sounds way cooler.

There are friends now who are doing their own seismic testing. I have a friend across town who’s spending a week in Jackson, MS, checking out the lay of the land for a possible new career. For her, it’s a major “lifepoint.”

There’s a couple friend in Colorado who was told a week ago that they had that – exactly one week to make a major life changing decision which was forced upon them. They are in maximum seismic testing mode.

Myself – yes I’m doing some too. My dream is to publish a book in  Summer 2012, and sometimes these very blogs are seismic tests designed to see how readers react to the presentation of certain topics. The wordpress analytics make it easy for me, and the comments breathe life into the tests.

When God stays silent, what to do?

I’m naturally inclined to act from the heart rather than the head. That’s why I appreciate the benefit of seismic testing so much. It’s a balancing tool.

My wife is a heart follower as well, so it sometimes makes it all the more challenging for us to make major decisions as a couple. We think it, and we want to do it.

When God stays silent, I go with a gut check. I simply use my life experience of 45 years, a close circle of friends which is VERY small by design, and what my heart says to me. That’s the presence of the Holy Spirit I believe, and we can never avoid hearing that voice.

Seismic tests and gut checks have given me some great experiences in life, and they have also resulted in some tough times.

With the combination of the two, I’m about to go down a path that should prove interesting.