Much of the past three weeks has been devoted to language and culture learning. There are over 800 native languages in Papua New Guinea. Official languages include English (which is taught in school...for those who go to school), Hiri Motu, and Tok Pisin. Tok Pisin is a type of creole (a new language created when different languages interact with each other) with influences from English, German, Latin-based languages, and some of the regional languages. Even though you can hear the English influence in many of the Pisin words, the grammar is unique and there are several words that don’t translate the same. For example, if you try to compliment someone and tell them how much you like their bag by saying “Mi laikim bilum bilong yu”, they are likely to give you the bag! What you really said is “I want your bag”, and theirs is a very obliging culture, honoring relationship above all other things.
Kudjip Nazarene Hospital operates in English, but the majority of patients speak Tok Pisin in addition to their own “tok ples” (local language). My language skills are advancing rapidly thanks to my language tutor, Emelyn. She lives close to station with her husband, Gabriel, the Rural Health Director. While we were in Sangapi, Emelyn and I would have “skul” (school) every morning. I would read through a set of primer books while she corrected my pronunciation and explained the words or phrases I didn’t understand. She understands English, but would only talk to me in Tok Pisin so that I would learn faster.
In the afternoons, we would “wokabaut” (walk) to different places each day and engage in conversation with the people to practice conversational skills. In those conversations I learned about Emelyn’s family and told her about mine. We discussed what fruits and vegetables grow here compared to what grows in the States. Some of our Sangapi friends also told us about the customs in this area of Papua New Guinea. Now, after three weeks of language learning, I can understand a large amount of Pisin (when spoken slowly without a thick accent) and can say quite a few phrases.
This past Sunday, while visiting a bush church with several other missionaries, I was surprised to find out 10 minutes before the service that I would be sharing my testimony. Thankfully, Emelyn and I had started writing out my testimony in Tok Pisin. Although I was only half done writing it out, I was able to give an abbreviated version on the fly and the church loved it. During the service they sing many songs that are new to me, but some are familiar songs that have been translated into Tok Pisin (see below).
Next week when I start working in the hospital full time, I hope I will have enough handle on the language to understand my patients and make myself understood. I’m sure many funny misunderstandings will come up, but so far God is blessing my ears and my tongue as I continue to learn. Mi laik tok tenkyu long Bikpela na litimapim nem bilong em = I want to say thank you to God and lift up his name!