Humbled By Language

By November 21, 2012Uncategorized

I had my first language evaluation on Friday.
I will call the examiners “BabyMomma,” “ SoftTalker,” and “NiceMan” .
BabyMomma started the exam. She was supposed to start off with simple things like “Introduce yourself.” “Introduce your friend.” “Are you married?” “Do you have children?” “How many?”  “Are they boys or girls?”  You get the idea.   I know these things. I have been having this type of conversation with people for a year! But somehow, she made it difficult.

When I meet people on the street, they consider that I’m a foreigner just learning their language, and they simply ask me, “Are you married?” Now, I have no idea all the words that BabyMomma used, but it was probably something like, “Today, as you sit here, is there a husband that you belong to?”

The reason I say that is because the question should be, “Agupi ci?” But what I heard was, “Blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah agupi?” No one has ever asked me that question like this lady did.

The whole test was basically like that. If they wanted to ask me something, they thought of the most difficult way possible.

Let me also say that BabyMomma was nursing her son quite openly throughout the two hour exam.  The men in this culture are turned on by knees and not a woman’s upper-body (if you lived here, you could fill in a LOT of stories here), so I know the other national men at the table thought nothing of it.

When I told them I didn’t understand something they said, they laughed.   I’m sure it was because they had asked a simple question. I then explained (in Lugbara) that I had only been studying a few months.  I expected them to talk to me like a child, not like a college professor.

When SoftTalker (he could also be called SpeedyGonzalesTalker) asked me to call for a piki piki from one section of town to another,  we had a pretend phone conversation as I negotiated for a price. They all just laughed.

Now, I know I must sound funny sometimes, and most of the time the people here just laugh because they are excited I’m speaking their language, but this was NOT a good way to encourage me. It was, however, a good way to humble me.
SoftTalker also asked me about the price of plates in the market. I’ve never bought plates in the market, so when I made a guess about the price, he showed me with his hands (laughing at the same time) that the plate I wanted would be about 5 inches in diameter. Humbled.
When I commented on a scripture passage and talked about what it meant, they asked me (at least I think this is what they said) to say it all again as if I were preaching in church. Yikes!
When I found a song number in the songbook, they asked me to sing it. I had NO idea what tune it was. After trying to decide what I was going to do, SoftTalker started singing, so I joined in. It was a tune I knew.  After the chorus, I stopped, but they all insisted I sing verse two and the chorus again, and this time I was singing solo. Humbled.

After I finished singing, it started to rain.  BabyMomma asked me what I was going to do for her baby when the rain came. I told her we had a tree to sit under. She didn’t like that. So we all got up and went inside the hotel to the small dining room that seats 8 people.

The acoustics were terrible! Every time the baby cried or a chair scooted across the floor, I missed key words in the sentences the evaluators were saying.  These kinds of distractions went on the whole time.
I guess it prepares us for real life…right?

This is where I should tell you about my friend, “Si.” “Si” is such a small, cute, little word, but in this tonal language it is an ugly, slimy thing. So far, after a few months of language, I have learned that “si” can mean (and I’m sure there are more): knocked, build, get off, write, with, teeth, branch, and grounding (peanuts).  It all depends on the tone and HOW you say it.  Now, I ask you…how many ways CAN a person say, “Si?”

Another cute, little word “a’i” means: receive, believe, respond, ask, borrow, salt, and co (as in co-wives).  So you see, they could have asked to borrow my Bible, and I could have thought they were wanting me to respond to the Gospel.

I’m just hoping that when it’s time for the next exam, the examiners and I will both be better prepared–and maybe Baby will be weaned from BabyMomma.

Editor’s Note:  Pray for the missionaries as they learn new languages.  Pray for them to be able to clearly share the gospel.(names, locations and blog links omitted due to security issues; stock photo)

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