Thursday, 3 September 2015

Lost in translation

A short snippet this week. There’s not much more I can add to this one. For those of you who speak Spanish, you will be familiar with the word ‘poto’. For those of you who don’t, I think you’ll get the gist.

ornamental mates burilados in Nazca, Peru

Lost in translation
In which the young Hernan makes a seemingly simple request

One evening when we were in Cochabamba, Tello quietly called me over to him and whispered to me under his breath. The hollow, dried out pumpkin or mate that he was using as a chamber pot had a hole in it and he needed another one. But he didn't want to be the one to ask our hostess for it. Could I do it?

As the lady in question was sitting weaving nearby, I had to walk no more than ten steps to approach her. And without beating about the bush, I came right out and asked for it using the native term local to the central Andes, which at that time was the only word knew for it.

But our gentle hostess, far from answering my petition, simply looked at me in surprise. I noticed she seemed shocked, but without understanding the reason for her astonishment, I just went ahead and repeated the request. It wasn’t just surprise on her face now, rather it was a look of frank disgust.

I had no idea what was happening – l mean back then I was so naive.  I looked around me in confusion. I could see Tello standing a little way off, and noticed that both he and his disciple, Mejia Xesspe, were trying hard to hide their laughter. 

Even then I couldn’t figure out what the misunderstanding was. I very gently repeated myself, this time being careful to use my politest voice:

"Madam, I would like you to give me your poto ..."

At this point the lady became even more indignant. I was struggling to hazard a guess at what could possibly be going through her imagination. But in the region of Peru where I come from that’s the name that we use for those dried out pumpkins or gourds - poto. I couldn’t see anything wrong with the word. It was just what we called it. Meanwhile it was dawning on me that the lady seemed to think that I was making some kind of very indecent proposal.

"Oh no. No, ma'am," I said, eager to clear up this regrettable misunderstanding. But heck! Even so I still couldn’t understand exactly why she was so upset. "What I want is your poto!”

Finally I was able to get through to her, but only after I happily noticed one that happened to be lying around nearby and pointed to it.

“One like this poto ".

By this time Tello and Mejia Xesspe were bent double. And in the end all I could do was laugh along with them.

photo - noticiasperu-hoy

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