Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A prison for your breasts?

Before I explain the title for this post, a few important facts about languages in PNG (you can just imagine how excited a language nerd like myself gets over this stuff).

Fact #1. There are approximately 800 languages in PNG. This equates to one fifth of the world’s languages. No, not dialects, languages. Not even languages as in Spanish and Portuguese, where, to quote my good Peruvian friend Erik, ‘only a total d*#khead would be able to speak fluently in one and claim to not understand any of the other’. PNG languages are distinct and usually unrelated to each other. So, unsurprisingly, Pidgin or Tok Pisin as it’s called here, is a very useful tool for communication. Everyone that Geoff and I work with can speak English. They speak really good English, but when they speak together they use Tok Pisin, (they are ethnically from a variety of different backgrounds and not all of them can speak Kuanua, the local Tolai language).

Interesting (to me) fact #2, Tok Pisin is very similar to Bislama, spoken in Vanuatu, and the Pidgin spoken in the Solomon Islands. It combines English, (apparently) German and local languages – and of course, this results in some truly awesome expressions.

When I was on the plane (second flight so I was no longer sitting next to the fear inducing American Oil Man), I sat next to an Australian, who told me that the Tok Pisin word for ‘helicopter’ is ‘mixmasta bilong Jesus Christ’. Yes, sceptical looks followed. How ridiculous. Surely this is the equivalent of the stories about ‘drop bears’ which Australians enjoy spinning to tourists. Naturally, I (secretly) wanted it to be true and was already planning to work it casually into a sentence. Within a day of arrival, I did what I now always do when in doubt (about every 15 minutes in this country), I asked Robert the driver.

Me: Robert, how do you say ‘helicopter’ in Tok Pisin?
Robert: Simone, we say ‘helicopter’. Well, sometimes we say ‘chopper’.
Me: What about ‘mixmasta bilong Jesus Christ’?
Robert: No. We don’t say that. That sounds a little crazy.

Drop bears indeed.

Like finding out that Santa isn’t real.

But here are some quality expressions that are in circulation!

Kalabus bilong susu = bra (literally: a prison for your breasts), OK, turns out this one is kinda old Pidgin and your young, hip Papua New Guinean just says ‘bra’ but it was used and is still understood J
Hamas krismas bilong yu? = How old are you? (lit. how many Christmases do you have?)
Wok painim aut = research (lit. wok to find out –what I’m doing!)
Man bilong mi = husband
ai bilong me hevi tru = I’m tired (eyes belonging to me are truly heavy!)
Em tru tru laikim = It’s true love J
Liklik haus = toilet (liklik just means small)

Now for the next one, I’m sure very few of my friends will find this amusing, being great bastions of maturity, but for the childish amongst us, ‘kisim pinis’ (you really must say it out loud for effect) is just the past tense of ‘take’, so posing the question, ‘Yu kisim pinis?’ means, innocently, ‘did you take it?’ J

Yep, Tok Pisin is really fun to learn and our driver and team leader are wonderful teachers, teaching us useful words like ‘egg’ (kiau) and more importantly, that ‘kiau’ in Tok Pisin is used much like ‘balls’ in English. So, if you go around talking about breaking eggs, needing some eggs, etc, it could be very funny for all concerned.

This is the kind of help I found lacking in Japan, where people were too polite to correct me and too embarrassed to teach me the slang (the exception being Furihata Sensei who ALWAYS told it like it was). So far, with Tok Pisin, I’m getting good honest help from the team at work so I’ve got no excuse not to pick up quite a lot and frankly; I’m screwed without it. Fortunately, it’s not anywhere near as hard as learning Japanese or Russian, and already, if the topic is familiar, I can understand a lot.

Which brings me to the topic of which I am familiar. I spend most of my time hearing discussions about STIs, multiple sex partners, pregnancy and breastfeeding (and the many ways in which these areas overlap). As a result, I know how to ask ‘Do you think most women would tell their husbands if they had symptoms of an STI?’ (honestly, I really can and if need be I can explain what those symptoms might be) but I can’t talk about the weather at all. Well, that’s not quite true, I can say ‘The volcano’s really smoking today!’ but all other weather patterns are beyond me. I’m also still struggling to ask for things at the market. But I can ask ‘Do you know of some ways by which a women can increase her supply of breastmilk?’ Yep, you can imagine what a hit I’d be at a dinner party, (if dinner parties were held here).

One thing that’s hard for me to accustom myself to, are words like bossmeri and masta. While Australians were here, ruling the roost and generally bossing people about, white men were called ‘bossman’ and their wives, ‘bossmeri’ (meri is woman). The men were also called masta. (Bossman/meri is still used though, for a boss including PNG people who are bosses.) The other day, a small child (about 3 years old) in a village waved goodbye to me and said, smiling, ‘bye masta’. The staff I were with fell about laughing, not because the general title is inappropriate, but because he got the gender wrong. The kid sees a white person and that overrides any sense of gender. He should have said the female equivalent (if anything like that at all). They thought it was funny cause I’m not a man. I thought it was appalling for many other reasons. The kid’s only three for Christ sakes. Colonial times are long gone. I sometimes get called waitmeri too which is fine, I truly am rather white. But I’m not down with this ’masta’ stuff. Fortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule. Usually, I just get giggled at.

Oh, lastly, in my previous post, I wrote that kids cry when they see me. Last Saturday, Geoff and I went to the market, and a little girl, maybe 2 or 3 years old and super cute, just ran up and grabbed my hand, looking up at me with the biggest smile. Her amused parents came and dragged her away and she kept her hand reached out behind her, trying to grab me until I was out of sight. Some kids also see me and wave and laugh. So, I’ve realized, I’m a clown to them. Some kids love a clown – it’s pure entertainment for them, other children (and some adults, Danielle I’m looking at you) are deathly frightened of them. Hence the crying.

OK, enough from me,

Gutpela weekend long yupla.

1 comment:

  1. My fav comments:

    Me: Robert, how do you say ‘helicopter’ in Tok Pisin?
    Robert: Simone, we say ‘helicopter’. Well, sometimes we say ‘chopper’.
    Me: What about ‘mixmasta bilong Jesus Christ’?
    Robert: No. We don’t say that. That sounds a little crazy.

    & I can say ‘The volcano’s really smoking today!’
    that's prob my fav simone

    the only way i would cry seein' you simone is for joy