Adventures in Awkward

by Tara Livesay on May 2, 2014

 A little humor for your weekend…

Disclaimer:
If you struggle with prim and properness to the point of easily offended you should not read this post.  There are words that are used to describe human bodies.
One day my husband, Troy, declared that his “life had become far too weird for description.”
I beg to differ and am going to try to describe.  It might very well be far too weird…. But not too weird for description.
Late morning on a Saturday I arrived at a house we were overseeing for teen-moms in Haiti. The young ladies had been invited to swim and spend some time over at our house.  They’d been informed of my arrival time in advance but in true Haitian style they did not begin to shower, change, pack, or get ready until they saw my face standing in their kitchen.  Like many warm climate cultures, time is not a thing.Eventually we made it to the car. At least one of us was annoyed. Five young women, three babies, and I packed into the truck.  We arrived at our house quickly, it was just a few blocks from where they lived.

The young women and their three sons all came in and sat down.  No one talked. We all sat staring at one another. There were moments of awkward before I asked why in the heck they were so quiet?  “We’re not used to it here” they replied.  I looked to Troy to do his comedy routine or lighten the mood.  He gave me a look that said, “This was your idea.”

We got warm bread from the little bakery across the street. We all made sandwiches with the bread and the conversation started flowing a little more freely.  After we ate I asked the ladies if they wanted to swim or watch a movie?  Everyone squealed at the idea of swimming.  I had taken my stupid pill that morning because it never occurred to me to qualify if they knew how to swim.  I figured if you are signing up to swim, and even squealing about swimming, that means you know how to swim.  First world (rookie) mistake.

The ladies did not own swim suits.  There had never been a reason for them to own suits. They were all size negative something on bottom and something not so easily defined or described on top…  ample we’ll call it.My teenage daughter handed out running shorts to all five of them but we were a little bit stumped on the tops.  They all thought wearing their bra as a swim suit top was sufficient and since it was the only thing we had, we went with it.We learned early in our time in Haiti that breasts are not really a thing here. No one cares if you see them, no one gets all worked up about them, they just don’t do in this culture what they do in most North American cultures. They are not necessarily something to be uncomfortable about seeing.  Modesty or concern about what is showing on top is not on the radar for the vast majority. Showing a boob is like showing a foot – of little consequence.

In our first years here Troy regularly encountered female employees lifting their shirt to wipe sweat off their face as he spoke with them, or showing him a boob rash or infection before he had a chance to run for cover.  More than once he found himself consulting on issues of the breasts. (A breast consultant as it were.)  Let’s just say he saw some things in the early years.

One time when he was very sick with Dengue Fever, a bra-less woman holding only a shirt around her front half showed up at our door asking to visit him.  Not gonna lie, my willingness to embrace the culture pretty much ended right there.  Sorry topless lady, you cannot visit my husband bedside.  All this to say, we’ve been totally desensitized to boobs.

ring_buoysFive young women headed across the drive way in their shorts and bras to swim.   After they got in through the gate, one by one they hopped in.  The fourth girl into the water was  five months pregnant.  She jumped into the deep end. She did not know how to swim. 

What felt like four lifetimes (but was really five seconds) passed while I set the child I was holding down on the driveway and jumped in to pull the drowning pregnant girl to the shallow end.  There was nothing very heroic about it. I envision all good rescues starting with the lifeguard , dressed in a red Speedo, swimming expertly across open choppy waters, muscles glistening in the sun, hair sun-dyed the perfect streaky blonde. This particular rescue was quite a bit less Baywatch.

I was instantly in contact with the drowning person. It took three seconds start to finish.  No time for the sun to glisten at all.

At that point we paused and called for a pretty crucial moment of clarity. We spent a little time determining who could swim.   That seemed wise what with five people already in the pool.  It turned out that only one girl  actually knew how to swim.

Those of us not swimming were helping with the three babies and our own small army of children and we were kind of chuckling about how dumb we are.  We were not surprised when two or three girls got out of the pool to check out our son’s bikes.  Next thing you know, they started riding the bikes around the driveway and what we very generously call our yard.

It occurred to me to ask my husband  when his friend Harold was coming over to work on his computer.  Troy shrugged and said “any time”.   Harold was new to Haiti.  I asked Troy if it might be wise to give Harold a heads up about the scene upon opening our front gate. Troy thought about it and said, “Yeah. Probably.”

Troy called Harold and this is what I heard him say – “Hi Harold. You’re still coming?  Okay. Well. Uh.  Here’s the thing. We’ve lived here a while so maybe some really odd things have become sort of normal to us.  Uh.  Ok.  I’m just calling to tell you that there are teenage girls riding bikes in their bras in my yard.  That might be sort of alarming to you. So I thought I’d tell you.”

I was laughing so hard by the time Troy finished his awkward explanation.  The absurdity of it all was hilarious.  Troy made is deceleration again: “My life is far too weird for description.”

(Now proven untrue by the way.)

The funnier part was that when Harold arrived he walked in and toward us at champion race-walker speed, across the driveway straight into the house without looking left or right.  He clearly wanted no part in the bizarre happenings at our house that day. We couldn’t blame the poor guy.

Modesty is defined differently from culture to culture.  Things that are considered provocative in one place, do not cause even so much as a raised eyebrow in another.
Do you have things that you have grown used to seeing that once made you squirm?  
I have laughed at this awkward moment many times over the years, but we all know that sometimes it is a bit more difficult to laugh and challenging to navigate.
Any moments, funny or awkward, you’d like to share?
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About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.

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