Living in a foreign land and trying to learn the local language while simultaneously going about daily living activities and attempting to be productive at work requires a willingness to move beyond the usual and familiar comfort zone. Specifically, this requires 1) a willingness to take risks with your use of self and your relationships with others (often strangers), and, 2) a fairly healthy sense of humor including a willingness to engage in impromptu theatrics.
Having any experience with treasure hunts and charades is a big plus.
This was proven necessary once again today. It was Sunday and I purposefully got up early. I had laundry to get done before the town water supply shut down as it does daily for a few hours in order to allow the limited water treatment system to catch up with citizens’ demands. I also had other activities on my agenda. It was not going to be a day of R & R. But, it was a dreary, overcast, cold, and rainy morning and my bed had been so nice and warm with the extra comforter I had put on it last night.
With the Christmas Holidays coming and a gathering of PCVs planned for next weekend, I had to make the cookies I had promised to contribute to the feast. So, I started the laundry, showered, dressed, and sat down to write my shopping list and then work with my language books, dictionary and computer and practice the vocabulary I would need to do some grocery shopping for my contribution to the feast, as well as for the PCVs who would be staying in my apartment before and/or after the feast that will be in the apartment of fellow PCVs in a neighboring village. Then off I go to the stores to search for what I need. I begin by going to the deli counter and asking for bacon which was fairly easy; “May I have a half-kilogram of bacon and please slice it (in Macedonian).” With that success behind me, I boldly try to be self-sufficient and I look in isles where I think I will find the other things on my list. Well, of course brown sugar is not near the refined cane sugar and honey is nowhere to be found near sugar or in the baking or breakfast sections and how in the world will I find vanilla, or sprinkles? I resort to asking store personnel; “Do you have honey?” Where is it?” What do you mean what kind do I want?
WAIT! The Macedonian language makes multiple uses out of the same words and differentiates by contextual usage. You have to deduce that these two jars of honey are woodsy/mountain forest and colorful/flora flowers.
Do you have sugar that is a brown color? (I couldn’t find a Macedonian word for brown sugar in my dictionary, so I did not think I could ask for brown sugar properly). Most of the time I forgot what I had practiced and had to act out what I wanted and even use some other things off the shelves as props, such as the white cane sugar which I pointed to and said in Macedonian,
“This, but brown color.” Who would have guessed that I should have looked in the health food section? How was I to know that the honey was next to raisins? And SRINKLES?
That was some of the best charade work I have ever done.
But, if you persevere and act out things and forget about feeling comfortable, or safe, you can get a lot done, perhaps meet more Macedonians, who certainly won’t forget that you are a very animated/funny American. The next time you are in that store, they might greet you by name, and will most certainly offer to help even when you might just want to find something for yourself.
Finally, with the cookies made, the day is turning out just fine.
Once more, a day of being reinforced for pushing past the boundaries of my comfort zone and learning new things, meeting more people and feeling just a little more acculturated in a strange land.