Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jambo, José! And other funny stuff...

"Jambo" is the Swahili word for "hello."

José is our maintenance man at Huntington Ridge. He's a Spanish speaker.

The other day, I was returning home from working with African refugees. I pulled into our 99% Latino apartment complex and spotted José. I rolled down my window, waved at him, and heard myself yell, "Jambo, José!"I laughed all the way home. Mixing Swahili and Spanish is very common for me. I start out in one language and when I run into a troublesome word, my brain automatically substitutes an easier one. Usually in the other language.

Laughter is a big part of coping on the mission field. Tim and I laugh all the time about funny things that happen. We laugh with our new friends and neighbors, too.

This helps when sobering things are constantly going on all around us. Like tonight -- a woman knocked on our door. She told us in Spanish that her son is in juvenile detention. He is in a gang and was using drugs and alcohol. When the police tried to arrest him last week, he resisted. Now he has lots of charges stacked up. This woman wanted to visit her son, but she wasn't sure about visiting hours. We called the detention center and translated everything for her. We also had the opportunity to encourage her to pray and read her Bible to find peace and hope. Giving her the name of Pastor Carlos of Iglesia Bautista Belen also provided a big open door, enabling her to find a church home where she can understand the language.

Another neighbor dropped by soon after. She told us that on this past Saturday night, she had heard a big fight going on in the downstairs apartment. She wanted to call the police, but she was too afraid.

Worry, fear, and sorrow fill people's hearts here. So when we can find a reason for joy, we do! One of my favorite things is holding babies. And laughing with friends. Here are some of the joys and funnies from our recent life ...
My Spanish speaking friend told me that one time she needed some keys made. She went up to the store clerk and said in broken English, "I need a kiss!" He stared at her, so she repeated it. "I need a kiss. I want kiss." Finally he understood that what she really wanted was keys.

I was telling my English class how much I love the ocean. I said, "Yo quiero la mer." They just about died laughing. I had said, "I love a lick" (lamer) -- which they demonstrated by licking pretend ice cream cones. The Spanish word for ocean is "el mar."
I was trying to tell my Latina friends about myself. I wanted them to know that I'm married. I said, "Yo estoy cansado." They all nodded in great sympathy. Then I realized I had said, "I'm tired." The word for married is casada! Well . . . tired, married . . . is there really much difference anyway?

My friend related a story about a time that she had wanted a money order for $130. She told the clerk, and he handed her a money order for $113. Thirteen and thirty sound the same when spoken in English by a Spanish speaker.
We've made all kinds of cultural mistakes and language mistakes. What can you do but giggle? And why not? It's a universal language, after all. Thank God for laughter!

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