I probably had it coming.

March 25, 2006

One of our truck drivers put me in my place this morning. I had it coming. He used some gentle, intelligent humor to skewer me good after I inadvertently raised his hackles.

I wanted to shadow our crew as they worked their normal tasks, thinking that my observations would be good for my education. I was right. By the end of the day, I’d learned an important lesson.

I caught a ride to the site where villagers are cutting scrub and our clearance teams are using detectors to check for ordnance. Knowing it would be a long day with no chance for an early return to camp I carried other work along. I carefully packed up my laptop with extra cushioning to protect it from a bumpy ride in our truck.

When I arrived at the work site, I faced a two-mile hike through the forest to find the location where the search teams were deployed. I had no desire to carry my laptop or camera bag with me so I placed them on the bed of the truck. Through my interpreter I told the driver how precious these two bags were. He nodded in understanding and agreement. Then, I told him that I expected him to keep a sharp eye on the bags so nothing would happen to them. He again nodded in agreement.

Next, I described to him how disappointed I would be if anything happened to either of the bags. He no longer nodded. This confused me. Did I still have his agreement and understanding? Not realizing that I had already driven my point into the ground like a tent peg, I emphasized for the fourth time (count them friends: four times!) that no one should touch those bags.

The driver said something in a polite tone that brought snorts, snickers, chuckles and coughs, and from everyone within earshot. Knowing that I was the brunt of a joke, I asked my interpreter what the driver had said. It took my interpreter a minute to compose himself and affect a serious expression on his face. Then, he translated the driver’s words. The driver had deadpanned, “Tell the foreigner that I will not touch his bags. Even if it rains hard this afternoon, I will not touch them. I will not let anyone else touch them either. We will leave them right on the bed of the truck!”

Although only my interpreter and I speak English, everyone within earshot joined me in laughing at the retelling. With no reason to stifle a laugh this time, everyone enjoyed a good belly laugh at my expense. It didn’t bother me. I had it coming and it was a zinger worthy of respect.

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