Tag Archives: creatures

Learning to Laugh Bilingually

I need to start this post with a disclaimer. While it’s all apart of the story and  learning curve,  take it with a grain of salt and don’t be afraid to laugh at my expense.

* * * 

Mila, who is from Puerto Rico,  moved to the US for college when she was 19. She was recently telling me that she had studied English in high school and knew the basics, but when she moved to Indiana she spoke with a very thick accent. Her English is perfect now; speaking, reading, writing, graduate school, etc. She said she knew she was really fluent when she could watch stand-up comedy on TV  and finally understand the jokes.

I guess that conversation has been lingering on my mind for a while now and I find myself  paying particular attention to the ways I relate to my colleagues and talk to my neighbors. I know I am not nearly fluent in Portuguese, but what about my sense of humor here.  Have I had a real, hardy, honest laugh of late? Am I getting the subtleties of the language and culture, or have I dismissed that part of learning?

I started a mental note of how many times I could make my favorite colleague, Roberto, laugh – 4 quality chuckles this week. But he’s particularly kind to me, so maybe he was humoring me, literally.  Then I tried to make a joke with my field extentionist – it didn’t work.  In truth, most of the best laughs here have come from the failings and miscommunications that are lost in translation.  Mix ups and mangled words are always good fodder for entertainment, and recently I had an excellent opportunity to re-learn the value of a good laugh.

*  *  *

So a few months ago I was talking with two of my Mozambican neighbors and the subject turned to the topic of a recent rat infestation in our housing compound.  Excitedly I mentioned how I was on a killing spree and had caught seven rats (with a trap) in the last few weeks. Basically translated in Portuguese, I said:  “Eu já mataram sete ratas na minha casa.”

I instantly knew I had made a faux pas because immediately both my friends started laughing hysterically.  Okay okay,” I said “what did I really say???”

Between uncontrollable giggles, my friend Sonia yelled “RATO not RATA!” Which led to the following gesture:

So that is how I learned what the colloquial term was for vagina. I had basically told my neighbors that I had surprisingly found and assaulted many of them in my house recently. Then I lost it too. When I had finally composed myself and apologized in full, I took a moment and reflected on another related event.

My boyfriend recently came for an extended visit and along with other misadventures, Merritt participated in the rat hunting.  In the morning  we’d inspect our trap to see what we’d caught.  When we found a victim, I’d make him take the bag with the carcass to the trashcan by the front gate.  In an effort to discourage local kids and curious neighbors from going through our trash (which is normal here) Merritt would point to the bag and say in Spanish, “No abra este. Cogí otra rata anoche.”  Which in Spanish means not to open the bag because there is a  gross dead rat inside, but in Mozambican-Portuguese that means, “I got some last night.”

Blissfully unaware of his crude comment, Merritt would walk back to the house feeling proud that he had made a few locals crack up with his broken Portuguese, saying he was confident they wouldn’t open the bag.

And I bet he was right.



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Did you know?… guest blogger

Big News!!!! I want to introduce my first guest blogger, Alexi Piasecki. You might recognize her name from my recent Visitors posting, since she and Andrea recently came to visit me here in Mozambique.  Alexi is a great artist and a constant source of inspiration and creativity. It’s been years since we actually lived in the same city, but even before we moved to different places we were avid pen pals. Ever since, our mailing tradition has continued.

I’m so pleased that Alexi has offered to contribute a series of illustrated factoids to Okay? Okay. Who doesn’t like a good fact? Her first of hopefully many contributions seems quite appropriate, since it fits in with the past few weeks’ encounter with a variety of creatures that share my cabana with me.

So let me just ask, did you know….



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More things that go bump in the night

On Saturday, I was talking to my parents via skype, and giving them a tour of my place with the webcam. Proudly I told them about Simba’s heroic rat-hunting success from the previous night. As I was trying to get Simba to sit and pay attention to my parents on the computer he started barking and pacing in front of the wall again… I get one quick view of a rat tail slipping over the reed wall escaping outside. 

I tell my parents about my hesitations about using rat traps and poison, but my father insists that I do something about it. Not because it’s gross, not because they are planning on visiting and staying me in several months, but because –

Camille, if you don’t take care of your rat problem, snakes will!

“Okay Dad, I’ll do something,”  I say humoring him; not too worried, because I’ve been here for over 6 months, and I’ve yet to see a snake larger than 5 inches.  I know it’s really only a matter of time, but frankly, rats give me more of the heeby jeebies than the idea of snakes. 

The next evening, as if hearing my fathers transcontinental warning, I get a visitor. I was more shocked by the snake’s well timed appearance than by it’s actual presence, so I took a photo then went to ask the guard for advice. 

The snake was coming in through a hole between the cement foundation and the back wall, but when the guard walked up with a stick it slithered back into it’s hiding spot. As advised, I poured hot water in the hole and prepared to jump to the side, in case it came rushing at me (as with the previous night’s rat escapade).  Instead, the snake quickly slipped away into the back yard as the guard through sticks it at. 

In Mozambique, all snakes are refered to as “cobras” even if it’s a garden snake or a mamba. I still haven’t been able to identify exactly what kind it was. It was black, 14 inches longish, and about the width of 2 pencils (not much to go by). I looked up photos online, and I’m pretty sure it was not a black mamba. So if you know your Ophiology, please let me know!



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things that go bump in the night

I have a rat (or several) that lives in or around my house. I’ve spotted it a few times, and thankfully it’s not NYC rat/monster size but more of a big grey mouse variety. Frankly there is really not that much I can do to keep them out since my hut is open to the elements and most of nature.

The only real extermination options I have are rat poison or a trap. I’ll admit, it’s less animal rights based and more about caution for my own wellbeing that  has kept me away from the pursuing the murderous options. First off, I’ve been hesitant to use the poison since I am scared the dog might eat it. Secondly, I am nervous that if the rat did eat the poison, it then might go die in my reed roofing. That could potentially go really wrong and stink up the place. You’d think the easiest solution would be to encourage the Peace Corps girls’ cat, Cooper, to follow his instincts but he’s well fed and totally disinterested in doing his duty.

Shouting encouragements to our brave hunter from atop our chairs

So that rat issue has continued and I wake up to scurring noises in the night, an occasional sighting, and the loss of several vegetables that get nibbled on while I’m away. But on Friday night, I found a new solution:   Simba the Hunter.

Friday evening, Courtney and I were sitting in my cabana when the dog started making lots of noise and trying to get behind one of my shelves. I figured he smelled some variety of creature, but didn’t think too much of it. But as I pulled the cubbard away from the wall so that Simba could get a good look at the empty space – a rat came leaping out. 

Eyes beedy and blaring – heading right for my jugular… Or so I assumed. I was too busy screaming and making a mad dash for a chair to get a good look.

Amidst all this excitement the dog lunged and actually caught the rat! I think he was more surprised than us that he actually got it. Meanwhile we shouted prizes and encouragement from the other side of the room atop our lofty chairs.

Once the animal was finally dead (it took a while) we were filled with adrenaline and pet owner pride. One rat down – hopefully not too many more to go. 


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