19 April, 2011

Communicating in a foreign land..

After hearing about my travels and countries I have lived in, the listener often follows with “Oh so you speak (insert certain language).” To which I usually reply “No, but I get by”.  

Now in certain situations, “I get by” is a huge understatement…like the time I was going into the city and hired a tuktuk driver who spoke not a word of English. I thought I explained perfectly well (with motions) that I was not going to the airport (shaking head no while making an airplane gesture with my arm when he motioned with the same gesture), but that I was going to a hotel to sleep (both hands in prayer position with my head resting on them, eyes closed) and then the next day (finger making an arching motion) I will go to airport (airplane gesture again). The driver chatted with someone next to him then smilled and said “ok” and promptly took me to the airport.

One language I certainly can not say I speak is the language of Cambodia, Khmer…outside the most basic of words needed in a children’s home such as; “Eat”, “NO!”, “No electricity”, “I don’t have (money, snacks)”, and “Play cars”. Wayne on the other hand understands much of what they say, or can at least figure it out. Today at breakfast one such “I get by” conversation (in Khmer and English interchangeable) took place.
Some kids came to Wayne and said something about someone loosing keys. Since Chamroeun just pulled up on her motorbike it was assumed that she needed her keys. (background – Chamroeun’s set of keys does not leave WOCC. She turns them over to our care every evening and the next morning she retrieves them…most mornings the keys are handed over to some adult who will give them to her when she arrives).

After much back and forth something like “Lost keys”= who lost keys, “Chay lost keys” =Chay lost who’s keys, “Chay lost chamroeun’s keys”, the obvious question regarding why 5 year old Chay had her keys in the first place didn’t get revealed (or as least not to me). But it was deduced that Chay somehow had the keys and when he threw some trash away, he inadvertently tossed her keys into the garbage bin as well as his trash. The bin was then dumped by someone who into the rubbish pile (a stinking mess that gets burned regularly). As a few of the kids began to tentatively pick through the garbage, Wayne and I started poking around around as well.
It was hard for me to understand the situation; which would have had to take place in the span of about 20 minutes. How did Chay get the keys, how did he happen to throw them away and why all of a sudden did someone throw out that particular trash bin and if all the above did indeed happen, then wouldn’t they be lying on top of the trash pile, not buried underneath? I finally walked away from the situation because…well, it just didn’t make sense.

I kind of left it to "lost in translation" and went about my day.  About an hour later I was in the play room with a handful of kids and Channey who isn’t feeling well had squeezed her little bottom onto the chair I was sitting on and was quietly watching me read from my Nook. I switched over to one of the children’s books I had downloaded and she listened to a story a couple of times before moving off the chair to roam about the room. I went back to my reading and she soon came up to me and said something in Khmer.

A simple one word sentence that (by the look of her face) I was too daft to understand. She said it again slowly and then made a miming motion over my shoulder and around my neck. When I apologized for not understanding; she let out a sigh and went over to a bin searching through some flash cards. She pulled out a large flash card with the number 5 on it along with pictures of 5 purses. A lightbulb went off in my head as I glanced at the desk next to me. In a bewildered tone said “Channey, where is my backpack?” Channey giggled and pointed to a pile of toys under which my backpack had been buried. I giggled back as I uncovered it.

I repeat, “I get by”.
By the way, I was told later that the keys were found in a tree near Chamroeun’s office. In contradiction to the late Paul Harvey, sometimes it’s better to not know “the rest of the story”…

1 comment:

Feebs NZ said...

Oh My! Such a good story. That is certainly a challange... I had the lost in translation a bit when trying to teach jewellery making to the children....but thank goodness for international hand language such as pointing and rolling of their eyes so you know that they are not getting you.......They must think us westerners are mad when it comes to using gestures to describe where the airport is.......ha ha ha