Pants Off?

Posted on: January 16, 2013 Written by
Pants Off?
      Photography by: Stockbyte from iStock    

Before our son was born, my husband and I asked to have a hospital tour. They told us to be on the second floor of the hospital at 10 AM. When we arrived I told the nurse we were there for the tour, whereupon she had me sit and wait for few minutes. When she came back, this is what happened. (A friendly reminder—we are in Senegal and this all takes place speaking Wolof.) 

Nurse: “Follow me.”

She takes the two of us into the delivery room. There is a huge metal bed on one end, a sink, and that is all. It is no birthing suite, but at least it is clean.

Nurse: “Take your pants off.”

Me: “Oh, I am just here for the tour.” 

Nurse: “The tour?”

Me: “Yes, the tour.” 

Nurse: “Take your pants off.” 

Me: “I am just here to see the hospital, you know, the rooms and stuff. I am not in labor. There is no pain. The baby is not coming now.” 

Nurse: “We’ll see. Take your pants off.”

This is where I give my husband a look saying why-doesn’t-she-understand-what-I’m-saying-is-labor-and-tour-the-same-word-do-I-take-my-pants-off? I look back at the nurse, who raises her eyebrows and nods—and I drop my pants. So there we are, three of us standing just inside the doorway of the delivery room, with the door open, and one of us is naked from the waist down. 

Nurse: “Get on the table.”

I open my mouth to protest, but she gives me the look I now know so well; the look I give my kids when I have told them to pick up their toys and they try to start negotiating. I get on the table and the nurse leaves the room, leaving the door open. People walk by and look in, not the least bit surprised to see a half-naked white woman sitting on the delivery table. At least my belly is so big it offers me some modesty. 

My husband: “Maybe I should take my pants off, too.” 

Me: “I am pretty sure that is what got us into this mix-up in the first place!”

We wait about five minutes, speculating what in the world is going to happen next. Then in walks a different lady, who we soon discover is the head midwife. 

Midwife: “What are you doing?” 

Me: “I am here for the tour.” 

Midwife: “Why are your pants off?” 

Me: “That other lady told me to take them off.” 

Midwife: “Huh.”

We just stare at each other blankly for a few seconds. 

Midwife: “She doesn’t know what she is doing. When you put your pants back on we can take the tour.”

The midwife stands in the open doorway staring at me. I just sit there, waiting for something. I am waiting for some redemption from this embarrassing situation that was NOT, for once, my fault—and I am waiting for her to close the door. Finally, the midwife gives me the raised eyebrows, and I realize I am not going to get either the redemption or the privacy. I lumber off the table, walk across the room, and put my pants on.

The next time I go to the hospital, I am not going to ask for the tour—and I am really going to try to keep my pants on.

© 2013 Thrive.

Questions to Consider:   What moments in your language/cultural learning have brought you laughter?  Have you been able to turn moments of tears over language/cultural learning into moments of laughter?  If so, how?


About the author

Cara Herzberg, Senegal, West Africa. Cara and her husband do holistic community development in a rural setting in Senegal. At the moment, Cara's community development consists of raising three children under the age of three. They have lived in Senegal for five years. Her favorite thing about being a missionary is seeing the incredible ways God meets her as she slugs it out in the desert, and the food. Before the kids came, Cara enjoyed running, surfing, rock climbing, and lots of other fun things. Now she enjoys sleeping.

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  • jani

    Oh, Cara!! What a funny story. Did you ever figure out what the first lady wanted you to do? Did she think you were there for an exam?

    • Anonymous

      To this day I have no idea what the first nurse wanted. Sometime I find people don’t really listen to me because they expect me to speak French (the national language here) instead of Wolof (the common trade language). I suspect this was the issue.

  • Gretchen

    I learned (in Prague) to bring my own cover by always wearing very long maternity tops or dresses to any kind of appointment. 🙂

    • Claudia

      Same here, Gretchen, in Germany. I wore long skirts ’cause they don’t give you anything and you have to walk across the room to the table!

  • Oh, my. That is just classic, Cara! I remember a similar mix-up, but at least it didn’t involve going pantless. Manila hospital: pediatric nurse enters the room, glares at the air conditioner humming away in the corner and finally insists that we at least turn it way down (if not off) as she throws worried looks at our first born child (which we *obviously* have no idea how to care for). We dutifully adjust the temperature… and immediately start to sweat. A little while later, the doctor enters the room: “Why is it so hot in here?! Turn up the aircon!” A command we were only too happy to comply with!

    • Cara

      So funny. People are scared of air conditioning here also. Especially if there is a baby around. My third child was born in October, the hottest month of the year, and every few hours the nurse would come in and turn the air down and tell us it was too cold for our son. When she walked out we would turn it back up!

  • Val

    This story is so funny- I laughed with tears rolling down my face!

  • Denise

    Hi Cara, We work in Senegal also and appreciate your sharing this. From what we have experienced we should ALWAYS expect some sort of miscommunication over there no matter what language it is in. I’m glad you could laugh it off and share this. We have found lots of fun humor living there.
    My question is – Did you have your baby there??
    Many of our friends have had theirs there and have been pleased. Was this a Dakar hospital?
    Maybe someday our paths will cross.

    • Cara

      Denise – We have had two babies here so far, and we are very pleased with the care we have received. I delivered at a clinic in Dakar. Where do you live? I would love to meet you some day.

  • Jill

    That was really a funny story! How embarrassing! It reminds me of when I was about to give birth to my son Josh (our 3rd child but first overseas birth) in South Korea. When we arrived at the hospital I told the nurse (in Korean) that my water had broke. She then came with a glass of water for me to drink. I then said it again and pointed down towards my belly. She offerered me a drink again. I realized after several times of this exchange that I was using the wrong Korean word for “water” which is why she kept offering me a glass of water. I finally called my Korean friend to translate!