Cross Cultural Comic Relief

I moved to Zimbabwe as a single woman at the age of 26, on accident. Yup, you read that right, accident. As in unintentionally. I came for two weeks, came back for three months, then I returned leading a team of volunteers for three weeks with an option to stay on for a year. Ten years later I am here. Still serving cross-culturally, now with a husband and two daughters (a 12-year-old who we are fostering to adopt and a 19-month-old). Somewhere around year 5 people started asking me if I intended to live in Zimbabwe permanently, which always seemed to come from nowhere until I realized that I indeed lived here.

Ten years in a new land, learning new cultures and languages have brought a lot of tears—some from sad, broken places and others from laughing so hard–usually at myself.

There was the time I almost booked a flight home because there was a rat in the toilet bowl of my host family’s home when I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I screamed in such terror that the whole family woke up to see what was wrong. The kids rolled on the floor laughing at me so intensely that we decided to just stay up and watch the sunrise.

There was the time I was learning Ndebele and since I was spending most of my hours with children who lived and worked on the street I was learning much of the language through conversation with them. I had a meeting with a visiting pastor and wanted to be able to say, “Jesus loves you,” with my newly acquired skills. So I asked the kids to help me with some new phrases. When I greeted the pastor in his language there was a huge smile gleaming back at me. Later on when I decided to try to wow him with my skills the faces staring back at me seemed more frightened, embarrassed and offended than joyful. Apparently I had told him to “stop his farting” instead of saying “Jesus loves you.” The joke was on me!

Although everyone laughed when I explained to them how I was learning my language skills, I promptly hired an Ndebele tutor that afternoon! This pastor is a dear friend who still giggles while telling this story today.

And there was the time that friends came to visit and brought suitcases filled with the luxuries of home. In our small Zimbabwean town at a time of peak economic instability, the shops were pretty empty so the ability to send a shopping list was a real lifeline! They came bearing tampons, lots and lots of tampons. Some without applicators, as I had requested, and some with. Well, a tampon is a tampon and I was not going to complain.

A few months later I was getting ready for work and heard the neighborhood kids laughing and playing in my tiny front yard, which was not unusual. I was the only “old” single lady in the hood and I had the privilege of being everyone’s “fun auntie.” My heart swelled with joy overhearing the fun shenanigans taking place—until I gasped with horror—mortified because my tampon applicators had been joyfully removed from the trash can awaiting collection and turned into glorious SPIT BALL LAUNCHERS by all of our neighborhood’s fun loving kiddos. I am not making this up!

As a therapist to orphaned children who have lost so much: parents, homes and a sense of community, my days are often filled with a lot of heart-wrenching emotions. Laughing at myself becomes the life raft that brings me back home to that safe place where I can curl up in my Savior’s lap and let it all out. I tell these stories because being the butt of the joke has helped me to become a part of this community, while at the same time keeping me grounded and not taking myself so seriously in the midst of seriously hard days.

Do you have your own embarrassing stories from living cross-culturally?

Can you think of a story when you were able to find humor in the moments you made a mistake?

How might you benefit from letting go of the impulse to take yourself too seriously and instead experience a deep belly laugh over what is happening in your life?

13 Comments

  1. Terri October 26, 2016

    I had only been living in the Netherlands for about a month when I got a phone call from a guy trying to sell us new windows for the house. We lived in a rental property and I very proudly told him (or so I thought I did) that we didn’t need any because we lived in a rental house. I didn’t know until that moment just how important pronunciation of diphthongs could be! The ever so slight, to my ears, difference between the word ‘rent’ (huur) and ‘prostitute’ (hoer) made all the difference! So after me proudly telling him a lived in a house of prostitution, he thanked me and hung up!

    1. Regina chari October 27, 2016

      Hahahahahhaha!

      I can just imagine the story HE tells about that phone call!!

  2. Wadzie October 26, 2016

    I was SOOOooooo excited to see this post today! I am Zimbabwean (23) and have been in America for going on 5 years. I have only been back home (Harare) once in 2014 and since I just started my Master’s I don’t know when next I’ll be home. Honestly, I have so many reactions to this post and wanted to email you directly but seeing as that’s not an option I’m just sending you a (rather long) shout out! I love that you’re in Zim despite all the crazy that has happened between 10years ago and now politically economically …

    I am getting my Master’s in Christian counseling (MFT & LPC) and I’m interested in ministry-based work that I am not sure anyone would pay for back home. I also have no connections in the mental health/nonprofit field because I have been away for so long. I guess I am just wondering how are you making it (or how did you make it as a single) financially doing nonprofit/mental health/ministry work in Zim?

    It’s also interesting that you’ve had to learn to laugh at yourself to make it in Zim while I, on the flip side, have had to learn to joke around less to make it in USA…I have been having several conversations about worship styles, mental health care, and community back home vs. here. I really do wish I could talk more with you…but if not, God bless and best wishes with all the work! Keep Laughing! 😉

    PS: I’m digging that last name. Three cheers to interracial/intercultural marriage!

    1. Regina chari October 27, 2016

      Wadzie,
      I’d love to chat with you about all of this. These are great questions with no easy answers! Please find me on Facebook and we can message there!

      1. Chick October 27, 2016

        Gigi – if Wadzie is in our area let me know so Chels can meet her! They would have a lot in common. Love your blogs. Always have. Love you!!

  3. Elizabeth October 26, 2016

    These stories are so funny! Thank you for sharing. Especially the pastor/fart joke! Reminds me of the story in “Monique and the Mango Rains” where the Peace Corps worker was trying to joke with one of the elders about his dog, but what she actually said to him was “eat your private parts” (in much cruder terms of course)!

    Also good for you for laughing at the applicator incident!

    1. Regina chari October 27, 2016

      Yes!!!! I don’t think we can live cross culturally for very long without an embarrassing language story!!

  4. Spring October 26, 2016

    I feel like the ability to laugh at ones self is critical to survival. I am having trouble coming up with a funny story from the field. Just tonight my husband and I were on a date night. We had to stop by a friend’s house where we have some things stored. We snuck in like robbers because we didn’t want to risk the chance of being detained by a long talk 😉 it felt funny to be so secretive.

    My husband once told someone in Guatemala that I was pregnant when what he meant to say was I was embarrassed 🙂

    Thanks for sharing stories to make me laugh

    1. Regina chari October 27, 2016

      I think you’re right! It’s an important skill. My husband always says “if it’s going to be funny in 5 years we might as well laugh about it now!

      I’m giggling thinking of you both sneaking in to avoid a conversation 🙂

  5. Ashley Felder November 2, 2016

    These are awesome stories. Oh, the tampons! Oh, the horror…did you ever tell them what they were used for?!!?

    My favorite story was from the first few months of language school. I was sitting with my tutor and a classmate was behind me, rather loudly, practicing his tones. I confidently said, “He really likes tones!” Or so I thought. With a switch of a vowel and a wrong tone myself, I actually said, “He really likes to hang himself!” OOPS!

  6. Shepswife November 6, 2016

    While juggling a screaming toddler and diaper bag on a crowded bus I shouted out to the driver as my stop approached…”May I pee on the cows?”
    My husband misunderstood a begging child who asked if his father was dead. My husband’s response: “I hope so.”
    Then there was the time a new neighbor showed up at our door with a bag full of bloody meat. She explained where it came from by miming slitting her throat with her finger. AH, yes…the sacrifice holiday…great. As newbies, we weren’t sure how Paul’s whole idol meat argument applied, nor how one might cook random meat parts, so we hid the bag inside of some other food scraps and threw it in the dumpster outside our apartment. Of course, when we returned from the market, there was the bright blue bag of meat sitting on the wall in plain sight. Someone had opened our bag of trash and retrieved it!

    1. Spring November 7, 2016

      I am imagining the thought of seeing the bag of meat that was picked from your trash!!

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