March 15, 2008

An Early Easter

Here’s an example of the kind of unexpected frustrations and aggravations – and good memories – that crop up all the time in Itipini because of the language barrier.

After we cleaned up the clinic on Friday afternoon, I went into the kitchen to wish our kitchen staff a good weekend. This is usually a simple matter of a few short phrases thanking them for their work and concluding by saying, “sobanana ngomvulo” – “see you Monday.” But this time that last phrase set off a commotion. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word of it as the six or so women in the kitchen probably speak a dozen words of English among them. But I gathered after a bit that they thought Monday was a holiday and I should have said “sobanana ngwolesibini” – “see you Tuesday.” This was a bit of a problem – the women were clearly looking forward to a day off but we need them around to distribute and cook food on Monday.

A typically stilted and disjointed conversation ensued, involving as it always does two- or three-word phrases and lots of hand motions on my behalf and a steady steam of incomprehensible mush from the women. (I thought understanding one Xhosa speaker was tough but I learned on Friday that six women, all speaking simultaneously, and all animated by the belief that they were being robbed of a holiday is much, much harder.) The conversation certainly stretched the limits of my mainly medical vocabulary but I think I got my message through that the Easter holiday isn’t until the following Monday.

But I guess I’ll find out for sure on Monday.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jessie its me Tim sorry i couldn't post a comment i just didn't know the site you where at so here i am. It doesn't sound very nice having to deal with six women who you can hardly understand but thats how things go, right? Cause i'm not sure. But knowing that you have some good times with kids (who i can tell LOVE you and you music) mainly i think they have more fun..... Well...... Being with you, i do too.

Love, Tim