Nem Belong Me Abigail.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you introduced yourself and then sat in awkward silence, not knowing what else to say? Knowing only a few Pidgin phrases, consisting of “My name is,” “What is your name?” and “Are you good?” makes holding a conversation with the nationals challenging. Yet it is my own silence which enables me to best learn the culture and language.

Today was my first “session” with my language helper. Culture and language acquisition begins with observation, followed by listening. Only after you can stand the silence no longer are you able to speak. Thus this morning’s session went something like this.

Me: point at hair
LH: “headgras”
Me: point at arm
LH: “han”
Me: point at fingers
LH: “han pingas”
Me: point at leg
LH: “lek”

And repeat. Then the process was reversed.

LH: “headgras”
Me: point at hair
LH: “lek”
Me: point at leg
LH: “han”
Me: point at arm
LH: “lek pingas”
Me: point at toes

And repeat. But lest the process weary myself or my language helper, we took frequent breaks where my language helper, speaking near-fluent English, and I would hold a conversation about her children, making billims, etc. Only after several repetitions was I allowed my feeble attempt at speaking Pidgin.

LH: point at hair
Me: “headgrAs”
LH: “No. headgras”
Me: “headgras”

My frequent mistakes made learning the language fun and laughable for both myself and my language helper. Later in the afternoon, when a group of us students went up to the village, I again had the chance to sit in awkward silence with some of the national women. But this time I had words…body parts. Imagine an entire conversation revolving around body parts. But no worries, that didn’t actually happen – though only by the graciousness of the national women in translating and explaining Pidgin to me. We happened to see one of the other language helpers selling peanuts and beetlenut along the road, and she offered us some peanuts. Peanuts, believe it or not, are the same thing in PNG as in the U.S., only with a slightly different accent. I imagine they taste the same as well, though I have never had uncooked peanuts in the U.S. On a similar note, me likim kaikai kaukau. (Translation: I like eating kaukau, or sweet potatoes.)

Lookim me behin. (Translation: See you later).

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