Tag Archives: funny

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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Rocky Ride Home

Some things to know about driving in Mozambique: 

  • There is one highway that runs from the south to the north of Mozambique called the EN1. It’s bascially the transportation spine of the country. Parts of it wash away every year during rainy season, parts of it are paved, but most of it is covered with potholes – big and small.
  • Lanes are more of a suggestion here. You’re supposed to drive on the left side of the road, but people drive on whatever side seems smoother and swerve around afore mentioned potholes along the way. 
  • When it rains – two way traffic is a bit more tricky since there is often one just lane that is useable. People play chicken and then just barely move to the side when they need to get by. 

So all this being said -Sarah and I needed to get from Maputo to Vilankulo and the big fancy bus wasn’t running when we needed it, so we decided to take the local bus. It’s normally not that terrible. Perhaps a bit more patience is needed since the busses are old, slow and always jam packed with people and stuff, but they’re bearable. However time around, the local bus fell more into the “let’s just make it home” category.

A few hours into our trip, we hit our first snafu:

Uh oh. Aparently we got  a bit too close to the side of the enbankment and just kinda slid down. We were really lucky because it didn’t roll and no one panicked. Since the bus was balancing on two wheels and all the passenger doors were on the bottom side of the bus, we  all had to all climb out of the drivers door quickly and cautiously, handing babies and old people down.

But Hazzah! In true African fashion, after standing out in the mud and rain for an hour debating wether to abandoned Sarah’s bag and hitch to the nearest town, a big Caterpillar tractor showed up out of nowhere.  With cheers and gasps of surprise, it amazingly pulled the whole bus back onto four wheels and out of the ditch! We were on our way again. Until…

The door panel to the luggage hold flew off. (Note door laying on ground in photo.)  ReallyOkay.  Everyone loaded out to get a good look while someone ran back down the road to fetch the bags that had flown out. Not too long there after the door was resecured with shredded rice-sacks and sticks.

Once again everyone loaded back in and we were on our way, until…

Oops, another door panel came off. (it was already too dark to take a photo)

By this point we knew the routine. Load out, find a temporary solution, pile back in and try again. After a quick scare that we might run out of gas, the driver decided we had enough to finish the trip. Luckily, that was the last of any more major delays.

13 hours later we arrived in Vilankulo, in the dark and ready to be home. It was a bit of a scare but really this just seemed like another funny story to write home about. 

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choice market find

Every so often, when browsing through the local market, I find a real gem sitting on the shelf.  Sometimes that lucky find is fresh asparagus or perhaps shiny gold leggings. I have even bought a can of sardines just because the packaging was so good. But today I think I may have found the best yet:



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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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My African Nativity Scene

Are you smiling yet?! Because I sure am. 

Look at her focus. The nurse has definitely done this before. 


(This is the kind of stuff I spend my money on.)


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