I called our friend Marta to invite her to dinner. Her housekeeper answered the phone. “Good afternoon, this is Mary.” Quite impressive, I think, to be greeted with a time-of-day specific salutation and a name. “Hi, this is David. Is Marta home?” “Sorry, Sir. Nothing Marta.” Over the years, I learned that “Nothing Marta” does not mean that Marta has been vaporized. She is simply not home.
Now I am faced with a choice. Should I leave a message, or call back later? What would you do?
I’m feeling both lucky and a little dangerous, so I decide to leave a message. “Could you write this down please?” I ask, realizing that maybe I don’t feel as lucky or as dangerous as I first thought. “Nothing pencil. For a while, sir.” I listen to papers shuffling and wait for Mary to come back to the phone. “Okay sir.” “Please write this down and give it to Marta when she returns home.” “Okay sir. Ready.” “Dinner tonight,” I say. “Okay, ‘Dinner tonight,’” she repeats slowly as she writes it down. “.” “Okay, ‘,’” she writes. “David and Mara’s House.” “Okay, ‘David’s moral health,’” she writes.
Huh? Say what? What happened? Did “David and Mara’s house” really become “David’s moral health”? I guess it did. I’m fluent in English, and conversant in two other languages in which I often miss things, so I know some funny things can happen on the way to mutual understanding. And I am not conversant in any of this region’s languages, so I can’t quickly switch to Mary’s native tongue to clarify things. So we’re stuck right here at “David’s moral health.” What should I do? Keep trying? Give up? What would you do?
I pride myself on my perseverance (i.e. I’m hard-headed), so I decide to keep going. I will say it again, offering some clarification. It never crosses my mind that the clarification could possibly lead to further confusion.
Here I go. “No, ‘David and MARA’s HOUSE,’ NOT ‘David’s moral health.’” “Ohhhh,” she says. “David not have moral health?”
Time to change tactics. “Mary, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to spell this. Are you ready?” “Yes sir.” “D-A-V-I-D A-N-D M-A-R-A-S H-O-U-S-E.” She repeats each letter as she writes them down, getting it perfectly, except that she adds an “i” to “Mara,” making it “Maria.”
I should stop, don’t you think? But I can’t. I’m thinking to myself, there are lots of Maria’s on this island. Marta might know a “David & Maria,” and could end up at their house for dinner, causing an awkward moment for everyone just because I didn’t want to clarify things. There is only one “David & Mara” on
“Mary,” I say, “Mara is my wife. Her name is MARA , not MARIA. MARA has no “i”. “Ahhhh,” she exclaims sadly, “Your wife nothing eyes? Cannot see?”
I pause, and realize that I am, in this moment, truly content. I am in the midst of one of those beautiful multicultural multilingual Saipan moments, that make you want to either laugh, or shoot yourself, or if you are fully experiencing the nuances of the situation, both. I offer to call back later, smile, and head off to ponder the pity that Mary must feel for me, my blind wife and my poor moral health.