Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Did You Just Say What I Think You Said?

Communication mishaps have become a dependable source of light entertainment in my life. However, fending for myself in Kyrgyz was not always such a quaint production. When I think back to those first six months in Kyrgyzstan, I remember how disheartening it was to always be fumbling with my words. More so, I was desperate to decode the new rules of popular humor that I was so sure would make adjusting to everything a whole lot easier. As I recall, all attempts at sarcasm fell flat. So, I started taking my cues from those around me – and I soon found myself laughing over things like a chicken spooking someone or dropping something of value down the outhouse. By the time my language had caught up, I was feeling quite refreshed by an appreciation of humor that finds inspiration in everyday situations. Funny doesn’t have to be dirty, cynical, offensive, or rehearsed (although I still embrace it all). Amongst my host family, the front runner seems to be meaning that is distorted through translation. Allow me to divulge two of my favorites:

So, I have a gorgeous 17-year-old host sister, Dilbar, who is as skinny as Popeye’s gal, Olive. I’m always joking around with her, making dramatic gestures over offering to give her some of my inner thigh or a slice off my back side. She gets a kick out of it, responding with remarks like “Oh, thank you,” or “Miss Erin, how is your baby? (while gently placing a hand on my bread baby).” Well, you get the point. Then, one day in August, my parents came for a visit and in the midst of a furry of greetings, she boldly introduced herself to my father: “Mr. Mark, give me some of your oil.” Of course, my dad’s like, “Some of my oil? My oil?” Then she points to his stomach, at which point it registers that she is referring to his body fat. He gave her a hearty laugh and had us near tears when he told my mom and I about their first conversation later that evening.

The other story involves my 12-year-old host brother, Almaz, and Chris. My brother had called to catch up and I decided to briefly pass the phone around the dinner table, so that he could say hi to the member of my host family. When the phone got to Almaz, he transitioned from something like, “We are eating potatoes and tea,” to “I am a smelly brother.” Unable to hear the other end of their brotherly conversation, I took my cues from Almaz’s face – he was simply beaming after listening to Chris’s reaction to this comment. Immediately after passing on the phone he shares that Chris had said, “Me too!” When I finally got back on the line, I had to revisit this…I mean, I had recently laughed at Almaz because he had passed gas and things were spinning out of control…I was trying to discourage such juvenile humor, and here was my brother, conspiring against me. But, when I asked him why he had agreed to the statement “I am a smelly brother,” he sounded equally shocked and amused. He admitted that he may have heard correctly, but it just wasn’t what he had expected Almaz to have said. So, he interpreted it as “I am a small brother,” as in I am Erin’s little brother, to which Chris agreed. Almaz still isn’t aware that there are two sides to this story. Chris is planning to visit this spring and I’d rather let Almaz anticipate the “smelly brother,” who he is so proud to have discovered.

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