Monday, July 14, 2008

Friends in unfamiliar places

Its funny how much you can have in common with a 28 year old Japanese accountant or two 19 year old Mormon missionaries when you think about it. These are people who are also waking up everyday in a country that doesn’t speak their language, have their culture and isn’t necessarily welcoming them everywhere they go. The accountant is a volunteer for the Japanese peace corps (which is actually called JICA) and he is in a community a couple barrios down and is working on environmental education as well, because he has been here for a little over a year at this point he is way more connected than I am (or may ever be) and is showing me the ropes and the people I need to know. He knows more English than I do Japanese, but neither of us are familiar enough with the others language to have a conversation, that means that we communicate in Spanish. Our manner of communication is thought provoking because neither of us will ever be able to relax and speak freely in our native tongue and our conversations are often filled with me not knowing the word in Spanish, him not knowing the word in English and him taking out his Japanese to English and Spanish translator (which looks very futuristic I might add) and elaborating on the word in question. The thing that strikes me about the language barrier, is that this is only the tip of the ice burg when it comes to cultural differences between he and I, I can’t imagine what life is like in an apartment outside of Tokyo just as much as he can’t imagine owning two golden retrievers that weigh as much as he does. Yet somehow, we seem to get along pretty well and at times seem to understand our situations better than the Dominicans around us. As for the Mormon missionaries, who I don’t see nearly as often, but over the past few weeks have been making the rounds in my barrio, we seem to spend between a half hour and an hour talking to each other when we bump into each other on the street or in the internet cafÈ. As three gringos have a way of standing out and people tend to make guesses as the reason for my presence, I have been asked several times if I am a Mormon and how long my mission is by passing Dominicans. Culturally, I don’t think that they are as different from me as say someone from Japan, but we have our differences as well. There have been a couple awkward pauses after I curse or use the term God as an expletive, also when I mention to them my daily schedule. You see, they are working a lot harder than I am, and living on about 2/3 the money. They are busy from 7 in the morning until about 9 at night every day (except Wednesdays) doing missionary things, while I have been spending a lot of my time reading, eating chicken, playing dominoes and watching Telemundo (channel 10) with the family (I think watching telemundo is helping my Spanish because it is an American TV station with Colombian actors who speak way more clearly than anyone in the DR). I heard somewhere that Mormons make good FBI agents, I think it’s because they work so damn hard all the time, I mention this too them and there is an awkward pause.

Side note: I also ran into some protestant missionaries who are building an orphanage for some kids at the edge of town and one of the guys was the biggest jerk I met in this country so far. I thought it was kind of funny that he came from a very similar background as me (I think they were Southern Baptist, opposed to being American Baptist), I understand that he is filled with Christ’s love and all but he didn’t have to be a dick about it. As we walked away from the orphanage site (where it was clear we weren’t welcome), the JICA volunteer noted that this behavior seems to be the norm amongst those guys.


Katie Reed said...

I'll check with Jim B to see if he knows of a good english to japanese translator. Here is a line to the wedding pictures..

Katie Reed said...

Are the locals buzzing with excitement over Miss Dominican Republic coming in third in the Miss Universe pageant?