Everybody laughs in English

I think one of the hardest things we’ve had to endure in our time here is loneliness.  I know, I know…you were hoping I was going to say something more dramatic like Dengue Fever, or giant tarantulas, or maybe spear-chucking natives.  Sorry, loneliness wins.  Maybe if I lived a more death defying life my loneliness wouldn’t be such a prevailing factor.  If I were an Indiana Jones type missionary – you know, traversing the jungles, guarding my limbs from terrifying creatures and my head from vicious cannibals while handing out Bible tracts and Christmas music – then I doubt I would have time to pine away for the friends I left behind. Surely I would be too busy (fashioning whips from snake skins and cooking up a little beetle porridge for supper) to notice that my companions were nowhere to be found.  But the fact is, my life is too suburban to be exciting and too simple to keep me from being preoccupied enough to not notice my recurring state of aloneness.  

I do have friends here.  There is a great community of people that we work alongside and hang out with on occasion.  I am not suffering from a lack of community.  I think it’s more a lack of depth, of intimacy, of knowing what the limits are – what’s safe or not safe to say, a lack of knowing and being known.   
The language barrier doesn’t help.  It’s hard to make friends when you are too afraid to open your mouth for fear of whatever butchered, half-baked, incoherent Spanish might come out. I am always left feeling like I can’t express myself to my would-be Tico friends.  The last time we were in the states, my brother asked a wise question as we talked about my ongoing second language acquisition:  “Can you be funny in Spanish?”  The answer is absolutely not!  Sarcasm, quick whit, snappy come backs – it all gets lost in the strained and stuttered bumble of words that make their way painfully out of my mouth.  I can barely order a Happy Meal, let alone crack a joke.  I don’t know why humor is so important to me, but it is.  I feel the most connected with other people when we are laughing together.  I hide my “I don’t get it” face as I laugh along with the group, or nod and smile when the whole church erupts in laughter at something that the (apparently) hilarious pastor has said.  Even when I have NO IDEA what is going on, I laugh.  I can’t help it.  Whoever said that laughter is contagious was right.  Although, I have also heard that laughter is the best medicine.  Wouldn’t scientist wet their pants at the discovery of contagious medicine?  
Once, right after we arrived and were struggling through our Spanish studies, we were walking down the street when two guys emerged from a gated yard.  They were both laughing really hard.  As we passed them, Jamison grabbed my hand and said, “Hey Mom, everybody laughs in English.” 
What a relief.  Okay, maybe it’s not English, but he’s right.  We all laugh in the same language. Thank God for that.  Best medicine…viral contagion…whatever….I’m just happy that there is a reprieve from loneliness.  In increments of chuckely, giggly, rosy cheeked minutes, I feel less and less lonely.  I have hope that the shallow beginnings of friendship I have now are soon to be deeply satisfying relationships.  My spanish is coming along, slowly but surely.  I think I’ll even have a real conversation some day.  We’ll see.  But for now, I will laugh, smile, nod….sorta play along…as I get to know people and they get to know me.  



  1. Missionaries in La Ceiba, Honduras on October 29, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Humor is one of those things that you need to be neck deep in a culture before you “get it”. Often times the best humor is the slight, subtle humor or the puns. Yes, those roll right over my head too! Laughing in church – I’ll have to agree totally with you! I laugh because it’s contagious NOT because I get the humor. Ah well! And loneliness – you pegged it right on girl! It’s one thing to have fun with people, hang out, eat dinner. But a whole other thing to drop by a friends house, grab a cup of joe and gab about your day, friends, kids, husband with someone who knows you intimately! Hang in there girl! Know others are right there with you! And I think being Indy would be lonelier – you just wouldn’t have time to think about your loneliness!

  2. MsGin on March 3, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Though I know that this is a little off topic for you… I will share a short story. My family and I went to visit another church as they were putting on a Easter Play. My son who was about 5 years old at the time was playing with two other boys. One looked Hispanic and the other looked Asian. I did not pay too much attention to them as they were having fun and laughing before th play was to begin. As the curtains went up I gathered my young'un and shushed him so that we could watch the play. then during the intermission he went back over to the other two little boys and they were giggling and haveing teh best time. Finally at the end of the night I walked over to the three of them to find out what the boys names were and to introduce myself. It turns out my son was the only one that spoke english. One spoke spanish or protuguese – not sure as they sound so much alike but I could understand a little, and the other little boy – I have no idea what language he spoke. None of the three boys had learned each others names because they coudl not speak each others language – however apparantly calling each other "dude" was sufficient and much to my surprise they each spoke "FART" as in blowing on their arms and making farting noises. This was apparantly what they had been doing all night… Speaking in FART to each other and then following it up with DUDE!

  3. Deborah on April 7, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Jamie, I recently found your blog somehow and have really been enjoying it. Decided to read some of your first posts to get an idea of 'where you've come from'.

    I LOVE this post!! I just did a year and a half in France learning French, and am now in west Africa learning Hausa. There is nothing more isolating and self deprecating than full-immersion language learning! But what a beautiful truth, we all laugh in the same language! (And sometimes laughter is the only way to survive!)

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