Whew! Very glad yesterday is over, now wish tomorrow was over. The dentist, a missionary dentist from Malaysia, removed the broken parts of my tooth (violently and with no painkillers) and asked me to return on Wednesday to have the rest removed. I am then to wait three months while the bones readjust and must then return to have a bridge installed. When the very nice and highly competent young man suddenly jerked the broken part out, causing bleeding that took a while to stop, I jerked in the chair. When the bleeding stopped enough for me to speak again, I asked, “Do you have any lidocaine?” He apologized profusely thinking the broken piece was almost falling out by itself. I told him I wasn’t coming back on Wednesday unless he promised to use some painkiller, and he promised, again apologizing. I forgave him, of course. He and I had bonded a bit as we both spoke fluent Formula One. He’s a big fan, and when I tried to talk about Sunday’s exciting race, he shushed me because he hadn’t seen it yet. Turns out he actually has tickets for the Singapore Grand Prix, a race under the lights at night, as he lives not far from Singapore. He was born in the U.K. but now lives in his parent’s home country of Malaysia and volunteers to do dental mission work around the world for a U.K. charity.
I told him that when I taught English to foreign doctoral students at Boston University, I always asked my students to teach me to say, Hello in their own language. I can say hello in thirty-eight languages from Korean to Chinese to Arabic and beyond, but I never had a Malaysian student so didn’t know the Malay for hello. He smiled big time, and proceeded to teach me to say Apa Khabar or hello and good to see you in Malay. He even wrote it down for me. You can always depend on just a single word in someone’s home language to forge wonderful bonds. It means so much to a stranger in a strange land to hear or get to speak their native tongue. It took so little of my time but made such a wonderful change in this dedicated young man who will only be in Tanzania for another three weeks. When my father learned he was being transferred to an area with a lot of Spanish speakers, he immediately began to learn Spanish, so he could speak to those of his employees who spoke Spanish. He taught me the value to reaching out by way of a few simple phrases and demonstrated it for me as well. Learning just to say Habari for hello instead of the tired and never-used-by-locals Jambo means so very much to the people who live here. You will always be seen as kind when you attempt to speak another’s native language, and you can count on that. It works, believe me. Try it, even once, and you will know it. However, don’t ask for chupi ya baridi in a restaurant here as you are asking for cold men’s underwear and not cold water. (See previous blog.)
When it came time to pay, the bill only came to $25 so I gave them $50 and told the receptionist that the next family that didn’t have enough to pay could use that extra money. Told her just to tell them God had helped them. As I was leaving, I heard a German man waiting for the dentist give another $25 and heard him say, “Please use this money as that other man asked.” You see what a random act of kindness can do? You just drop the pebble in the pond, God will see to the ripples spreading from it. All in all, not a bad day, thank God.