The other day I was working in our family medicine clinic with a training Clinical Officer who also helps me when I get stuck in Kiswahili, when I met the nicest, soft-spoken, most dignified older man. He had come in as a patient with some very serious concerns, and we were having a very solemn conversation when language barriers struck. He spoke some English, but not enough to bridge between him and my Kiswahili.
I didn’t understand part of what he was trying to tell me as a problem, so I asked my CO to help translate to make sure I got what the patient was saying. He repeated for her and she turned to me.
“He says that he is concerned because after he eats, he is very angry.” She said calmly. I paused to see if I had misheard her.
“Yes. Angry. ” I paused again, but still didn’t get it.
“After he eats, he is angry?”
“Yes. After eating, he says he is very angry. Every day.” I still wasn’t sure what to make of that. The patient was watching us go back and forth, also looking like he wasn’t sure what the confusion was.
“So. . . he is bothered because after he eats he feels angry? Not before?” The CO nodded again.
“Um, well, usually people feel more angry before they eat, or. . . are we sure this is a medical problem?” I tried to ask gently. The CO and I stared at each other, mutually confused for a long moment. Then she lit up, and suppressed a giggle.
“Oh, no, Daktari. . . not ANGRY, HUNGRY. He is HUNGRY even after eating. ”
“Ohhh!” A pause, and then the CO, patient and I all burst into laughter. The sweet older man understood enough to see what the problem was, and was more amused than anyone.
“Aaangry, hehehe,” he chuckled. “Angry. Hahahaha.”
We all giggled off and on for the rest of the visit. Even as he walked out the door, he was still giggling over the thought of being angry after eating. I’ve had many moments of being confused, misunderstanding or being misunderstood, but this was the first time a language barrier created humor for everyone involved. Here’s to not letting post-meal hanger get you!