Monday, March 3, 2008

Language Lessons

Language Lessons

Most places I go I try to learn a Bemba word or two in relation to what is happening. The people we meet are patient teachers; they take some gleeful pleasure, however, in our mangling of the sounds and struggle with the words. The men don’t let on so, but the women downright giggle. They have sounds that we never say—and I have yet to get the very soft “b” that is barely there. One makes the sound by barely closing one’s lips and blowing air through them. My pronunciation of a hard b will send grown women into paroxysm of laughter; I really try on this one.

The first words I learned came from the kitchen, since that is where I was spending a bit of time each morning. I learned to strip the strings off of pumpkin stalks and leaves (somewhat like the strings of a celery stalk) while learning to say “chibwabwa.” It almost sounds like the name of a miniature dog, except it has that tricky, windy “b” in it. Another hard sound to get is an “n” before another letter, especially a consonant. The staple of the Zambian diet is a stiff corn porridge called “nsheema;” one has to listen very hard to hear that n in front of sheema, but it is definitely there. It’s also there in front of nkonde—banana. However, I really like the sound of strong words like nkoko (chicken) or katapa (cassava leaves). Avocados are called kotapela, which sounds remarkably like “caterpillar,” another gastronomic delicacy here.

There are some very good nouns here. I am told that our last name, Riendeau, sounds just like the Bemba word for love—luyando (love that sound). I am a grandmother—mbuya—and Alan a grandfather—shikulu. We have grandchildren—abeshikulus. Our house is called an Ng’anda (pronounced inganda) and we live in the icitente (community) of Logansport. We serve Lesa (God) who is Bayawe (Lord) of our lives.

Perhaps more helpful, we can at least greet people with the typical greeting of ‘Mulishani?”--How are you? The response is always “Bwino,” which means fine and is used just like we use it—whether we are fine or not. Bwino sounds like bweeno with that breathy b again. However, you can tell someone you’re sick by saying “ndelwala.” Thank you is “natotela” to which you will reply Eya mukwayi.

Okay, enough is enough. I have two last favorites that I may take back to the States with me. One is to call out “Odi” instead of knocking on someone’s door (either the door will already be open or there won’t be a door, which makes a greeting much more effective). The other is Uli kapuba—“you’re silly.” I’m sure there will be lots of times to use that.

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