Sunday, January 16, 2011

Lost in translation

Part of the week-long fair in Flores,
these lovely ladies are danced through the streets daily as part of a folklore story  
The marimba gets carted around the streets behind the ladies

Being severely handicapped in the local language can have many interesting outcomes. Conversations inevitably end in internal frustration, external awkwardness and communal confusion. On one hand, you are limited to repeating the same conversation daily. Not only are conversations about what I had for breakfast yesterday, what I am having for breakfast today and what I will have for breakfast tomorrow utterly boring for the obvious reasons, but also because breakfast is ALWAYS eggs, beans and tortillas. Perhaps a refried plantain on the odd occasion to stretch my vocabulary a bit.

The semi-outdoor smkoy kitchen where our beans, eggs and tortillias are ritually produced.
Note the meat smoking over the fire.

On the other hand, the inability to communicate can also have unintended but hilarious consequences. Vinko, Rosita (15) and I were watching cartoons and nursing our common cold when a young cousin wanders in and mentions something about some accident in a nearby town and a big building on fire (or simply a big fire?). When pressed, more details about an accident and the possibility of cars being involved emerged, followed by a definite confirmation that whatever happened happened on the road and something else about “muchas personas” and something about being dead.  Later we enquire about the fire and/or the accident, but nobody else seems to know anything about it.

This is how the traditional bollos were made:
mazie porridge stuffed with beans, then wrapped in banana leaves,
then steamed in a giant tub over the fire for a few hours. Any takers?

The next morning Doña Rosa, mama of the house, sits down with us and explains that the main meal of the day will be in the evening instead of at noon as is usually the case.
“Is it because it is Sunday?” we ask.

“Yes, it is Sunday.”  Close. Keep fishing.
“Is it because of church?”
Yes, I am going to church this morning.” Closer.  “The meal is a special traditional meal called bollos – it´s usually made this time of year when the festival in Flores is on.” Bingo! 
But then a string of words came at us like bullets, of which we caught on to: “I´m going to church this afternoon… death… traditional meal… walking… 3pm…” Pause.  “…cousin of Don Carmen… muchas personas… the festival… go if you want…

Death? Was it because of the accident last night?” we tentatively enquire.

No… No accident… … … … … … … … muchas personas… walking.”
Righto. Afterwards we agreed that whatever it was, we were being welcomed to participate in the events of afternoon. We returned home around 3pm, certain that we at least understood its significance as the start of some activity. We snuck into Darling’s room, armed with dictionary and notebooks.

Vas a ir a la iglesia este tarde?”  [Are you going to the church this afternoon?]

Y Doña Rosa? Ella va a la iglesia ahora?”  [Is Doña Rosa going to the church now?]
“Porque?” [Why?]
Por la entierra de la sobrina de Don Carmen.” Frantic dictionary search ensues. 
A funeral? His niece died?”
“Si”. Ah.
Now what? We retreat to our room to consider our options. Under the impression that it was some traditional fiesta that started at the church and walked through the street ending in traditional food, we had nodded enthusiastically that we would like to tag along to experience local culture when Doña Rosa invited us along this morning.  But now there was a body, a burial and “muchas personas” involved. Vinko – dictionary in hand – trotted back to the house to express proper condolences and to kindly decline the invitation to attend.

A few minutes later he returned.
“I understand now what happened.”

“There was an accident. The lady was a relative of Carmen´s.”
“Yes, his niece right?”
“Yes. She had diabetes… and she was very sick… and she got kicked in the head by a horse.”

Raised eyebrows. Suppressed laughter.
It´s not funny. It was an accident.”  Pause.  “Rosa definitely said a horse.”  Pause.  “Although I´m not sure which one happened first - if she was kicked by the horse before she got diabetes. I mean, I don´t know if it was the horse or the diabetes that killed her.”  Pause.  “But she died.”

Moral of the story? In life (and translation) only death is certain.

The view towards the east from a restaurant in San Andres. You can see San Jose on the peninsula. 


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