Friday, July 8, 2011

The heathen missionary incident: A Nicaragua story

I am usually pretty good with different cultures.

My hometown had a large Indian population for middle-of-nowhere North Carolina. My best friend in elementary school was Hindu. I developed a taste for spicy curry and goat cheese before I turned ten. Dr. Dad works with residents from all over, and I've been to dinners from Bengali to Ethiopian to Chinese. I was once friends with someone who practiced psychic Vampirism. I know when to take my shoes off, when to cover my knees, when to bite back a scathing retort when someone asks me why I'm not married yet.

One week in Nicaragua? Got this.

I went to Nicaragua in summer of 09 with my dad and a couple people from our church and Georgia for missionary work and setting up a medical clinic in a rural area. Weird Central American diseases? Awww, hell heavens yeah!

At first, my days were divided between the clinic in the morning (triage, pharmacy help, observing and helping out Dr. Dad, avoiding get worms in my feet) and helping out with the children's Bible Study in the afternoon. I didn't really care for the the official children's ministry, because it was lead by two women who flew first-class into Nicaragua and still complained that the extra 45lbs of luggage alloted wasn't enough. And they wore fancy makeup in the village. Really? Do you even understand the point of missionary work? I didn't think rolling your eyes at your BFF and asking the translator to "please get the kids to shut up and listen" was any sort of example to be setting. So I drifted from that to observing Dr. Dad or playing with the kids  straggling around the clinic.

I knew minimal spanish. I make my way around, and knew enough to belay my relationship woes (mi corazon esta roto!) but that was about it. Also the days could get really long and tedious. What translates over in any language, I wondered? GAMES! If I could teach the kids a simple game, we could play for hours and they could teach me little words along the way.

I pulled out my deck of playing cards, because I thought a nice, not-running-around game of Go Fish! or Wat would be a great way to calm them down and get out of the heat. Also, numbers. I could count in Spanish and say more/less, so that would help explain the games in addition to my spazzy gestures.

I start counting and laying out the cards, getting them organized, and a couple kids give me curious glances. Some of them drift away. I think perhaps they're shocked by these nice shiny cards, but encourage them excitedly to stay and play. I then notice that a couple of the village men are clumped together, staring at me. Some are talking loudly; some are pointing. I start to feel a little uncomfortable. Something about me is obviously causing unrest. I pull aside my favorite translator, Angel, and ask him what the hubbub's about. He sees the cards in my hand.

"What are you doing?!" He exclaims. "Where did you get those? What are you doing with them?"
"I was trying to play counting games with the kids, but they kept running away."
"Why would you do something like that?"
"Because it was fun? And we were bored? Wait,  is there something wrong with playing cards?"
"Oh, oh, you don't know? Really?"

He then explained to me that gambling is a big problem in Nicaragua. Christians, especially those in less cultured areas, view playing cards as a sign of gambling, which is also considered a MAJOR SIN. These  people thought I was trying to lead their children into sin right in front of a Christian clinic. Temptation by a devil in a floor length skirt.

I, of course, was horrified, and relayed my mistake and sincere apologies to the parents through the translator. I also conveyed the story to the program leader, so if anyone came asking him about the situation he'd know the truth. And also warn everyone else for future reference.

So in my quest to have some fun with the kids, I ended up convincing them I was a heathen in disguise. Better luck next time?

Side note: Sorry I've been offline for a week. It was the 4th and then my birthday!


Katie said...

I love your blog! I would have made the same mistake. I am sure that I will have many funny cultural misunderstandings this year in Korea. I leave in less than 2 months. We have to get together before then. Let me know when you are in town.

MellyB said...

I read this entire post, you child hating, gambling heathen, but I can't get past psychic Vampirism. Whaaa...? Now that I know such thing exists, I must know everything. Let's get it on Mr. Google.

The Tiny Team said...

Haha, I love awkward moments. I had a few of those I was doing yoga on a missions trip in Fiji and the neighbors thought it was dark arts.



Lippylash said...

Happy belated birthday! Are you really a theater major? Love that!!