Communication Through Laughter

Natalie Miller

Communication is a skill that everyone learns as a young child. Generally, when people think of communication you think of words. It is crucial to be able to construct sentences in such a way that you can get your point across to others. We also learn how to read peoples facial expressions and body language when having a conversation. Unfortunately, these critical skills seem to be getting lost in today’s age of technology. Many people have discarded physical interaction as a form of communication and have begun to rely solely on a written form, even for creating relationships with important people in their lives. My time living in a homestay in HaMakuya revealed just how glaringly backwards our seemingly developed society has their priorities, especially when it comes to communicating and forming relationships with another human being.

The day we left for our homestays we were given a list of Venda words that would be important for us to remember. While there were many words on the list, most of us could only remember the very basics like hi (ah), thank you (ndolivhuwa), and good morning (ndi matsheloni). While these words came in very handy, they were by no means enough to fully communicate with our family. We did have a translator who would help us out when necessary, but we had to learn how to communicate without him.

When we first arrived in Dotha our translator introduced us to our host family. Very quickly the children of the neighborhood became aware of our presence and we were surrounded by kids. Our soccer ball was instantly in use with dust flying and delighted squeals. Every goal scored, and game won, could be heard from a mile away. When our team wasn’t in action my hair was being braided on the sidelines, and babies were being handed to me. Giggles could not be contained as we all played around in the dirt and insects were thrown at us.

When we weren’t playing soccer, the girls taught us their games which usually involved some kind of rhyme and dance. These games were played for hours on end, one game after another. They also dressed us up in their traditional mo’wenda and taught us their traditional dances. The younger girls would dance with us teaching the moves, while some of the older women drummed intricate beats on worn down water containers. Laughter could not be contained on either side as we laughed our way through the challenging moves and they laughed at our butchery of the movement. We danced into the night, illuminated by the golden hue of the fire. As the night got later they brought out the speakers and the dancing amped up. They would play American music wanting to learn our style of dancing (which unfortunately was nonexistent). Every time someone would try a new move, or a new song would come on, love and laughter were the only things that filled the air. By the end of our stay, we had become one big happy family.

The creation of this beautiful family happened with little to no verbal communication. We thrived on demonstrations, body language, facial expressions, and laughter. We all put our heart and soul into trying everything and threw away our embarrassment. Every person in the family was thrilled to have us there participating and learning about their culture. By the time we had to say goodbye, nobody wanted to leave. One of the women from the community called me over to give me a hug and told me she loved me. That was the first time I spoke to this woman, yet the love between us was mutual. We had all been a part of this amazing experience diving into one another’s culture sharing dance, music, food, games, and laughter.

This experience reminded me to look up and focus on what’s important. Strong relationships are built around laughter and physical interaction, something that you can not get from texting. I am determined to continue to implement this way of living when I return. Of course, technology has its benefits, but I think we need to remember that there is a time and a place for it. Technology is not a substitute for interacting with people face to face. Sure, we can learn about rural South African communities on the internet and in text books, but living with the families in the villages, and more importantly becoming a part of a family, is a necessary experience to truly understand the importance of body language and the essence of laughter.

Natalie Miller