Learning a new language is also learning to laugh at yourself. I’ve never been very good at laughing at myself, as many of you know, so it is no small wonder that I love learning Karimojong so much. In welcoming new teammates and hoping to share with them the love of the language, I’ve decided its only fair to share some of my own experiences. Here’s to being stretched and sharing the laughs.
In preparing for Easter, I wanted to buy two lambs. There are herds of goat, cows and sheep that regularly wander through our fields. I went to someone who I thought would be savvy. He spoke no English so I told him what I wanted and we negotiated the terms in Karimojong. I sent him money in hand to the market to buy two lambs. I was surprised when he arrived with two goats. There are words for goat, sheep and then different words for their young, like in English. I thought I had used the word for lamb, but apparently it could be either a lamb or a kid goat. He was very proud of the specimens he had brought, and the price he had gotten. But I had to confess that I had made a mistake, and then ensued a local search for a lamb to trade. If I had only said small sheep, it would have been fine!!
A good friend of ours has two children similar in age to our own. I knew that one of his children had been sick so when I saw him at church I enquired as to her health. I asked if she was improving. He gave me a queer look, so I repeated it and then followed up in English shy of the phrase I had just learned. He immediately brightened and told me that she was improving, but that I had originally asked if she was “finished”, or died.
There is a group of people that work closely with the mission. They get used to our strange accents and incorrect ways of saying things. They fix what we say in their heads, but rarely correct us. They often act as translators for us, even when we’re speaking Karimojong. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to the village, said something in Karimojong, and then had it repeated word for word by my dear friend. “That’s exactly what I said!” I want to exclaim, but in reality the person we were with had no idea!
I can’t think of a particular instance, but I know I’ve done it or even if I didn’t, I know others have thought I did it. Beautiful and cat are one letter different. Exchange a ‘b’ for a ‘p’ and voila! That’s right I called someone’s dress, child or even themselves a cat when I was intending to call them beautiful. It’s not a compliment around here.
There is one decent Karimojong dictionary. However it comes from a northern region so I’ll often finds things that aren’t locally relevant. I also found one mistake which created years of confusion for me. Sandal and bread are one letter different; ‘k’ versus ‘g’. The phrases, “Put your bread on!” and “Would you like to eat a sandal?” brought more than one smile to friends’ faces.
What do spider webs and tomatoes have in common? Answer: ‘enya’. Yes, I have asked someone to remove the tomato from my ceiling and windows, or to buy me spider webs at the market.
Feel free to share your own experiences! Let us learn and laugh together!