I ran Rasheeka last night, getting her through most of her “day off.” The task of managing a new culture is surprisingly hard. Normally, I feel like I understand my characters pretty well. I mean, they’re my characters. I made them up. How can I not know what they’re like? And yet—if I’m honest with myself, I really don’t know what they’re like. I didn’t grow up in the conditions they did. I don’t live in their world or face their challenges. I don’t understand people who aren’t, basically, like me.
And the people I am writing about in this story are Not. Like. Me.
The Laos Enosi come across, to Rasheeka, as a dour, stoic, unforgiving and disdainful people. They never smile. In eight logs, Rasheeka has heard one joke made by a Laosian. One. That alone boggled my mind. How could I have somehow invented a people that don’t joke?
And the answer is: I didn’t. Of course Laosians have a sense of humor. Of course they make jokes. They just….don’t do so the way Rasheeka would expect them to. To start with, they rarely smile. Originally, I was thinking maybe they just don’t smile, period. Like, smiling is a learned behavior, and they never learned it. But that doesn’t quite feel right. Instead, I think that as a people, they regard smiling as undignified and mildly inappropriate public behavior. Life is serious business: treat it that way. Accordingly, there’d probably be more smiling and joking on Kyriaki, the day of respite, when they’re not taking life quite so seriously. There’s a lot of game-playing on Kyriaki, which I tried to establish.
Part of it is that there are subtle cues in Laosian behavior that Rasheeka just doesn’t pick up on. I’m sure there’s a whole host of body language that she simply isn’t trained to notice, but which would convey meaning to other Laosians. I’m not sure how to “teach” her this body language, or how to present it in text form. It’s probably very subtle things, like the way they hold their heads, or the direction of their faces when they look at each other—or don’t look at each other. Gestures that don’t look like gestures, like whether the hands are held together, or at the sides, or other things. Things you don’t notice unless you’re used to noticing them. Like a smile.
Maybe I just need to make up a host of little gestures and things, and start showing them in logs.
I had thought earlier of having some of Rasheeka’s classmates make jokes at her expense, but then decided “giggling schoolgirls” seemed unlike Laos. That’s still true…but some form of quiet, dry humor by the students—perhaps mocking their formal, stiff-necked and boring teacher.