A convenience store just opened in the village next to ours. Its groundbreaking arrival in our region was met with curiosity, some criticism, and a suppressed excitement. It’s the first of its kind in our stretch of villages in the mountains and every aspect of the store, down to its modern design with glass doors and cash registers is completely brand new.
Yesterday I walked down the path to the convenience store, with the goal to buy spaghetti sauce. (Yes!! There is spaghetti sauce!) As I was buying my sauce at the checkout stand, I watched from my peripheral vision as a man parked his motorcycle outside and made his way to the entrance of the store. And that’s when it happened. The poor guy surprised us all by emphatically body-slamming the glass door with impressive strength; he had been completely unaware the door was, in fact, closed. He looked as surprised as if the glass had slapped him back, and he stumbled backwards, fine, but noticeably shaken.
Everyone inside the store, including me, burst into a giggling fit, holding our stomachs from laughing so hard.He looked at us for a minute, and then shared a slightly dazed smile.I walked home from the store, still laughing, and in a fit of excitement relayed the whole scenario to my husband as I made spaghetti. And then, without thinking, I added, “and what’s great is that it reminded me that people don’t just laugh at us here, they laugh at everyone!”
My first day ever in the village was tragic. Or tragically hilarious. Depends on who you ask.
The morning began with my neighbor calling for me outside my window, beckoning me to come outside. The travelling vegetable seller, affectionately called Aunt Vegetable, had just arrived and my neighbor thought I should come down to get my pick of the fresh produce. I grabbed some money and headed down the stairs of our house on stilts. I was in a hurry, afraid I was too late, and in my rush neglected to take off my socks (it’s cold in the mountains!) to put on sandals instead. My socked feet couldn’t grip the lacquered wooden steps, and so I promptly slipped as if I had been in contact with a banana peel, careening down the stairs step by agonizing step at full speed.
Mind you, this was in front of ALL the women who had congregated around Aunt Vegetable, which just happened to set up shop in front of our house that morning. My fall was cartoonish, a pure slapstick combination of socks and klutziness. After landing at the bottom of the stairs, I’m certain I looked like a crumpled rag doll. The fall had knocked the wind out of me, and so I gasped for air in high-octave breaths that sounded like panicked squeaks. Finally I could inhale like a regular human again. From behind my disheveled hair in my face, I looked out to where I knew everyone was gathered. I saw wide eyes staring back at me, and, to my surprise, big curled smiles on their lips. Everyone was laughing.
I trudged back upstairs, both my ego and body badly bruised, and wailed to my husband what was only the first of countless subsequent laments, “Everyone is laughing at me!”
Since that fateful day, the joke has been on me. Or at least that’s what it has felt like at times.
Being the only foreigner in this region (the locals can actually count the number of tourists that have passed through here on one hand), it is abundantly clear that I serve as an easy target for entertainment. It’s not just my frequent klutziness that gets the laughs. So much of who I am, how I behave, and what I do is considered strange, which can easily become fodder for discussion, and then, of course, turned into stand up comedy.
For a while I responded defensively. I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain myself whenever I saw my conversation with friends turn into a personal public dissection, complete with laughter about how strange I am (even down to the way I slice tomatoes, seriously).
But then, slowly, once my language abilities became more advanced, I began to notice that the women in my village joke about everything, and everyone. No one is spared. My mere presence provides a source of unending comedic material, but after they get all their jokes about me out of their system, they move on to other people, or topics, to poke fun.
It may sound strange, but that discovery was a relief.
I also began to pay attention to how people responded when getting made fun of. Believe it or not…they laughed! And smiled! Conversations turn loud and lively from all the jokes. Women howl in laughter, sling insults, and exchange comebacks. Now I am no longer scandalized when friends are chuckling at my expense. I actually laugh, too.