“Laughter has no accent.” – Byron Kerr (me – Jan 1998)
That stemmed from an incident in the Gambia. I piled into a taxi with seven locals, and this was a regular, five seater-max car. It was however the day before the end of Ramadan – add Christmas, New Years and Easter together after not eating during the daylight hours for a month and it’s a pretty big deal anywhere with more than four Muslims. People all over the place were desperate to get back to their loved ones, whereas I just wanted to head on towards my next town. I knew I’d be in the next town for at least 3 days as the celebrations and feasts carried on unabated and everything else ground to a necessary halt. Into this taxi we stuffed ourselves, our backpacks and luggage (and chickens) strapped to the roof or wedged in the trunk.
Our driver proved nimble and wily, opting for longer, less travelled short-cuts to avoid the police who used this day as their day to get that last few ‘dashes’ (bribes) from unscrupulous public transportation people looking to make an extra buck. The driver’s theory was sound, take the round-a-bout backdoor route out of town, skip the checkpoints and hit the highway flying.
Only one problem, in a small town, covering the ‘other’ escape route isn’t exactly difficult and sure enough, as our driver pulled over, rolled down the window and offered up the dash for an overpacked vehicle, the wise African elder wedged beside me (or perched on my lap) quipped,
“Sometimes… when you avoid the lion… you find the tiger.”
The entire taxi laughed, so did the police officer and I realized in that moment that laughter truly has no accent. As the infectious, spontaneous humour of the situation washed over us, there was no way to tell where the people who were laughing were from, in that car was one Canadian, and then Gambians and Senegalese of various tribes, but we all shared our laughter.
Last night, this thought returned to me twice in the space of two blocks.
After a very early morning I craved some chocolate and some sleep, I went down to the local uber-corner store because I knew the woman stocks M&Ms and sometimes… comfort food comforts perfectly.
I strolled up the road, passed one of the local restaurants I frequent (where for 30 000 Dong I leave stuffed to bursting) where to my shock the matriarch chef of the establishment sat beside her daughters at a table dining and chatting. Her tiny ‘kitchen’ empty of a chef. I smiled at them in greeting and entered the shop, took an immediate 180 and plunked myself down at her kitchen workstation and mimed being her for a few seconds. She and her daughters giggled with laughter at the sight of me perched upon her tiny toddler stool (they stand about 18 inches off the ground). A shot them a grin and continued up the street.
A block later some girls from one of the coffee houses (which requires a proper post) stood on the sidewalk, posing for pictures as they killed time. The girls ‘drink coffee’ with clients. It’s not a brothel, and they spent much of their time on their phones, and the music is so loud conversation proves implausible but there are coffee shops with coffee girls all over Saigon. Two of the girls leaned over, out into the street, flexing their delicate biceps, cruising up behind them, I simply extended my arm and flexed along with them. This caused the girl taking the photo to stamp her feet and howl with laughter, the flexing girls caught on and I didn’t break my stride.
There was no need, I couldn’t (and didn’t need to) explain the joke.
As I purchased my chocolate fix I realized…
The reason I’m a good teacher and a good traveller is I’m able to make people laugh, put them at ease and either help them learn (when teaching) or let them trust I should be permitted into their country (when travelling).
Because as wise man once said…
“Sometimes, when you try to avoid the lion, you find the tiger.”