Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lost in Translation

Note: This post was begun two weeks ago, and finished this morning.

We have been in Mirebalais over a full week now, and I am finally feeling settled in and comfortable.  This is largely due to our downstairs neighbors, the Philbrooks, who have taken us under their wing.  They have patiently and graciously fielded requests for help with everything from "Where do we get water?" to "Can I borrow your broom...again?" to "Can we catch a ride with you to the market/party/hospital?"  Lucy has become fast friends with their son, who is almost seven, and they can often be found together pouring over the ponds of tadpoles or building rock houses.

I have been trying to practice some Kreyol, although it goes against every instinct I have.  I am an introvert naturally, and can happily go the whole day without talking to anyone.  The fact that I have two little extroverts with me all day every day ensures that this never happens.  I can be mentally exhausted at the end of the day just from talking to my girls all day, let alone talking to all of the people that we meet with whom they strike up conversations.  Add on to that the embarrassment of having to communicate with most people in my own extremely poor Kreyol which usually comes out as my high school French (to be fair I was really good at French...when I studied it 15 years ago), and that makes talking to people quite daunting.

Today, however, necessity was the mother of boldness, if not invention.  We ran out of drinking water, propane, and the other night I broke the handle on our front door.  Don is working today at 8am, and helped me talk to Vladimir one of the security guards, this morning before he went to work.  However, that left the remainder of the negotiations up to me.

We also had a lovely lady, Maranatha, come over today to help me with our laundry.  I have been keeping by by washing things in the sink or in our trash can every other day or so, and it has come to my attention that my hand washing skills are woefully inadequate.  As in, the other day I washed a pair of Don's scrubs with some other things.  When I brought them in from the balcony where they were hanging to dry I noticed that the hems of the pants were still crusted with dirt.  Total fail.

So, with the help of our little Kreyol Made Easy book, Google Translate, and my four years of High School French, I did some language dégagé.

"Who is able to help us exchange our water bottles?  Are you able to exchange them?  Today?"
"Who is able to exchange the propane?  Is he able to do that today?"
"I am so sorry, but I broke the handle on our front door."
"Yes, I have cleaning things, they are here.  Yes I have detergent.  No, I don't have any bleach, Mistolene (a floor cleaner), or more detergent.  This Ajax bottle says 'bleach', is this it?"
"You cannot install the propane but the manager can, and he is coming?  Today?  OK."
"You can fix the door handle by switching them?  OK.  Do I have a screw driver?  Noooo, I don't have a screwdriver....but you will come back with one later to fix the door?  OK."
"What is it?  What is it for?  For laundry?  I don't have it?  You can go buy it?  OK.  How much is it?  OK I have that.  One minute.  This is all the money I have. It is enough?"

By the end of the day I was literally sweating every time I saw another human being.  Not because of the 95 degree heat or the 90% humidity.  It was fear sweat.

I can understand about 70% of what people say, if they are speaking slowly.  If I am not sure what they are talking about, I ask them to spell a word so I can translate it, or tell me what a thing is used for if they are asking for something.  It is the responding that is really hard for me.  My natural inclination is to respond in formal French.  And not even real French, like people here who are from Francophone countries.  High School classroom French.  Which I am sure sounds like nails on a chalkboard to people who speak French, let alone people who speak Kreyol.  So I really have to stop and think every time I say something.  Which makes for some reallllllly loooooooong conversation pauses.  Which are awkward.  Very uncomfortable.

Because, and forgive me if you have already noticed this, people are looking at you while you pause and try to compose a sentence.  They just stand there and look at you.  Waiting.  And when people stand and look at me, I tend to forget what I was supposed to be doing.  My brain switches off and the brain stem takes over and I start thinking about how I can get out of this situation instead of what sentence I was supposed to be translating.

This is why I am an introvert.  I like being around people, I like talking to people, I like being social.  Most of the time.  It is just that doing so takes up so much energy.  I need to be by myself in a quiet room after most social interactions in English, let alone in another language.

So by the end of the day, I was pretty exhausted.  Don came home around 4pm, and I am not sure exactly what he found.  I had accomplished all of the necessary tasks.  We had water and propane and clean clothes and a clean apartment and both girls were alive and Lucy and I had done school work together and I think there was probably some semblance of dinner occurring or about to occur (Full Disclosure: I am posting this more than two weeks later, and our door handle is still broken, but as long as we don't close our front door when we leave the apartment everything is fine).  But it is possible that I resembled Goldie Hawn in the scene in Overboard where the boys are throwing grapes at her face while she mutters incoherently.

But I did it.  And I am still trying.  I am still trying to talk to Vladimir and Micheler and Maranatha and go a few questions deeper than the usual "Good morning and how are you?" exchanges.  I am still saying hello to people on our walks.  I am trying to be better about buying my own things and not having Don and Julia ask everyone how much things cost for me (OK, could still be a lot better at that.  Every time I try to buy something by myself I basically pull out a wad of small bills like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and look hopefully at the woman with the tomatoes/Maggi cubes/rice).  I am trying to puzzle out translations to questions that I have and not feel embarrassed to say things when 9/10 times I get a blank state in response to my Kreyol/French mix.

I am only defeated if I stop trying.

Unless we run out of diapers.

1 comment:

  1. Don't feel bad. Learning foreign languages is hard for everybody. In the mean time just keep doing what you do, using things like Google Translate and Babylon Software to just try and get by and figure out what people are saying, and eventually you'll get better and won't need them anymore :)