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Language Study: Not for Those with Weak Stomachs

We sit in a circle on the floor of Nina’s house. I hope that listening to the women converse in this foreign language will help me learn it.

Learning a foreign language is not easy.

Sometimes things spiral out of control.

Nina’s two-year-old grand-baby, Ali, is running back and forth in the house, charming me with his adorable smile. Maybe I can connect with him…we are on the same language level.

Saiful, an eleven-year-old nephew, putters about the house for no apparent reason.

While we visit, Nina bustles around the kitchen. I know that means she’ll serve some sort of refreshment and to be polite, we’ll need to eat or drink whatever it is. Eventually she returns with a tray of juice glasses filled with a cream-yellow liquid. It is corn juice.


There are things that should never be made into juice.

I look at the contents of the glasses and my gag reflex trembles. But I tell myself that maybe it won’t be so bad.

I take a drink.

It is.

Drink strategy:

Drink half now, and then wait until the end of the visit to drink the last half so that Nina won’t refill it.

After forcing down the first half, I listen to the conversation. Words. Sentences. Ideas. I piece them together in my head and wonder if the story I think they are telling is what they are actually saying.

A cat in the kitchen steals my attention. No one else sees that it begins to heave…convulsing until it stretches its jaws wide and vomits an enormous gray blob on the kitchen floor. I look away or else the cat won’t be the only one throwing up. But Nina is talking and she sits between me and the cat, so I can’t help seeing it vomit a second blob of equal size.

I feel my stomach try to follow suit.

Think of something else, Jana. Think of flowers…

I look down, but all I see is the corn juice in front of me. Not helpful.

Should I tell Nina that her cat threw up? It doesn’t seem like the right thing to do in the middle of her story. Eventually, she will go in there, find it and clean it up…


Saiful ventures into the kitchen. Don’t step in it! Thankfully, he sees the second installment of vomit before anything catastrophic happens. He leans over and peers at the wet glob.

He does not, however, see the first glob, dangerously near his bare feet. After a few moments of curious examination, he shrugs and straightens up. As Saiful turns, he steps squarely into the first glob. It smashes on either side of his foot.

I look away quickly.

Flowers in a lovely meadow far from here. I will not throw up. I will not throw up.

Saiful wipes his foot on the floor until he is satisfied and returns to the living room.

Several times throughout the








Ali the grand-baby toddles back and forth across the room. Every time he gets close to the kitchen my heart rate increases.

I should have said something, but by now it seems wildly out of place:

“Oh by the way, twenty minutes ago your cat barfed two stomach-fulls of nastiness on your kitchen floor and I decided to wait until now to tell you…now that it’s smooshed across the kitchen because Saiful stepped in it.”

No. Definitely too late now.

The good news is that Ali never actually stepped IN it. No, he slipped ON it and fell on the floor.


Again, I forced my brain to flower meadows, willing myself not to gag. Ali headed toward us. As much as I wanted to connect with the kid, at this point I did NOT want him near me. He sat in Nina’s lap and I looked at his foot. His puke-smeared foot. All I could muster up (in the form of words anyway) was, “Itu,” (“That”), as I pointed to the offending appendage.

Please let me off this train.

I look down at the tray on the floor. I still have a half a cup of corn juice to drink.

Nope, a few more miles to go before I can get off this crazy ride.

Do you have a wacky language or culture learning story?

Published inCulture


  1. Charlie Williams Charlie Williams

    I’d rather drink some juice made from that picture of flowers in the meadow and have a framed picture of the barf. Maybe someone would think it was a Van Gogh painting.😇

    • Jana Kelley Jana Kelley

      Ha ha! If only! Yep, I bet it would have passed for a Van Gogh! 🙂

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