Rain finally gave way to the humid goodness of sunshine. It was the day when the correct bicycle air pump was purchased. (Quite the relief.) I had been sent on a mission to acquire mustard from Sunny. We discovered that it is the only place that sells a tasty brown mustard in a decent size.
I took a different path this day since we parted ways further down the way. The journey took me on a circle tour of Mameda, the area that that had flooded the week before. Serious damage could still be seen in the canals.
Bird nests collected beneath bridge pylons and retaining walls bared their crumbled skeletons to the sun. A group of people were helping clear out a home that received the brunt of the onslaught. It was hard to think that just a few days ago violent water passed this way.The brand new air pump hopped out of my bicycle basket and nearly fell into the crumbled canal. So close. That would have been awkward watching a foreigner clumsily climb down a damaged retaining wall to retrieve a brand new, very pricey, air pump. Thankfully, I didn’t have to call upon my nonexistent parcour skills. Tragedy avoided, I continued to Sunny to purchase the mustard. Inside the air-conditioned building I began to wander around to peruse their selection as I approached the aisles strategically placing myself nearest the coolest spots.
A woman wearing a face mask was giving out free samples of beef on a toothpick. All right, I thought. Free food! Our eyes met and she offered a nugget, which I took gratefully, discovering suddenly that my hunger was greater than anticipated. I chewed at the piece of meat and the masked woman began asking me questions. Usually fine and dandy but I did not understand what she was asking. She pointed at my basket and mimed pumping up a tire. I felt awkward bringing the pump in but I didn’t want to leave it outside. She began exaggerating her movements, which confused me even further. So I told her that I didn’t understand and walked away.
I thought I escaped but it turned out that I was wrong. I gave her a wide berth as I passed her again. She yelled out to me and I was forced to approach her again. This time she asked me where I was from, which I understood. We ended up having a nice, albeit erratic, conversation.
The preceding successful experience reminded me of a similar, yet unsuccessful, one I had in the U.P. once. I was working at the Feed Store. Three of us were unloading a truckload of feed. The warehouse was generally considered an off limits area and coming in through the back door was extremely frowned upon. A pallet had fallen over and we had to move it bucket brigade to restack it on a fresh pallet. It was a pleasant day with a nice breeze. Two men approached the dock, one middle-aged and the other elderly. The elderly man approached me and began asking me questions that I did not understand. I am pretty sure he was speaking English but I could make no sense of any words that came out of his mouth. I asked for help from my coworkers but they merely shrugged their shoulders. I asked for help from the middle-aged guy and he shrugged his shoulders. The elderly man finally gave up and walked away visibly frustrated. To this day I have no idea what happened and I’ve always felt bad about it.
Communication is challenging. Even between two native speakers confusion can break down the walls of understanding. But it doesn’t mean you stop trying. Failure teaches us what we did wrong so we can be successful next time. Like a flash flood destroying retaining walls, communication can fall apart. But it can be repaired.