Here in the Morgan household we have a longstanding tradition of hosting foreigners in our home for months or years at a time. My all time favorites were a pair of sisters. They stayed for 2 years. We still miss them. They came over to meet us for just about a half an hour the first time. We knew when they left that they’d be wonderful guests and we invited them to stay.
They’re beautiful girls, still. Dark hair and skin and eyes. Lovely shiny black hair in quantities that made me want to weep. Quantities that, when they tried to do my hair, would have them asking, “But Flaquita, where’s the rest of your hair?”. Flaquita was my nickname. It means Skinny, but it’s the diminuitive and affectionate.
I think (and this is just my theory) that when you’re indigenous looking (and they were), in a culture that looks down on the indigenos, in order to verify you are not low-class, you need to be extra proper. Which they were. Very polite, always asking permission for things and giving great latitude to each other and the rest of the family when it came to personal matters.
One sister needed to return to Peru to help with something in the family. The other stayed here. During this time she and I grew pretty familiar with each other. So familiar, in fact, that I felt like I could play a little joke on her. One of my favorite jokes.
I’m not really a practical joker. I don’t like jokes that startle me, scare me, get me wet or make me look stupid. But somewhere in my armor, there’s a chink. Having to do with poop. I love fake poop. I’m a connoisseur of fake poops. I have no fewer than 4 of them. I have cat, dog, raccoon and a generic turd. The dog and the raccoon are the best.
Usually I reserve them for people working at my house. Guys like electricians or carpenters. They take off their coats and set them down and I just leave a little pile there, and wait for them to notice. By the time they notice, sometimes I’m not even home anymore. But it always makes me laugh if I hear them holler, “What the…Aww. No… Man!”
I laugh so hard sometimes I almost wet myself. With real pee. It’s very base humor. Immature, unsophisticated and silly. Not my best me. But me nonetheless.
So while Aly was out one day, I went up and put the highest quality poop on the middle of her bed. I went back downstairs and promptly forgot about it. When she got back it was hours later. I had no recollection of what I’d done.
She went upstairs and was gone about a half an hour before she came back down. Her face was grave. I was clueless. “Aly, what’s wrong?”
“Lisa I need to talk to you.”
“Sure, honey, what’s wrong?”
“Can you come upstairs and talk to me for just a minute?”
I followed. Worried. Did one of the kids go through her stuff? Was she pregnant? What?
“Lisa, we’re so grateful to be here. I don’t want you to think I’m complaining. I am going to take care of everything. I only think you should know what has happened. Don’t be scared.”
Shit. Maybe there’s a huge bug in her… Oh no. The Poop. It isn’t funny. Humor sometimes doesn’t translate cross-culturally. Especially not poop. Her face is not annoyed or just grossed out. It’s deeply troubled. I am such a clod. What is wrong with me?
When we got to her room, I stopped her. “Aly, I’m sorry. I know what’s wrong. And it’s my fault. It isn’t real. It’s a joke. ” She registered none of what I was saying. As I reached out and picked up the poop she looked mortified. “It’s not real, look.” I brought it to my mouth and clacked it against my teeth. Illustrative, effective, but not reassuring to her. I was not digging my self out. She was not cracking any kind of smile. Yeeesh, I am so not cool.
She was mad, or maybe troubled is a better word. I got called down stairs by one of the kids, and left saying, “Sorry. It was a dumb joke. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I wish I’d thought to have blamed one of my boys. I’m not good on my feet like that.
She came down later. We talked, and she expressed her puzzlement with why that kind of thing would be funny. She was really worried that an animal had come in through a window (her door was shut when she left and when she returned), or that one of the pets was sick or some other real badness had gone down..
Months later, when Zach went to Lima, Peru and spent a month there, we talked and came up with a reason why poop humor doesn’t translate. It goes like this: Here, we have laws forbidding people from leaving their dog poop on the grass. People actually carry little bags around and pick up their dog doo and throw it in the trash. Stray dogs don’t wander around. Stray people rarely wander around in residential neighborhoods.
There are public toilets. And almost all toilets accept not only human waste, but also the toilet paper. In most parts of Latin America, dirty toilet paper goes in the bathroom trash.
We don’t come in contact with real poop very often unless we have small children. Even then, it’s pretty well contained and dealt with quickly. So it’s funny. It’s gross, but in a pretty abstract way. For many people in the world, poop isn’t a joke. It’s smelly, infectious, common and disgusting.
And if I think about it, real poop isn’t funny at all. It’s gross. And Aly had the last laugh because my cheeks still burn when I think about her worried face and apologetic manner. I am such trash.