Thursday, October 15, 2015

Some surprising questions of daily life

I have been thinking about some fo the different ways life works here in PNG, so I have tried to group some thoughts together.

How do you say toenail in Tok Pisin?

       PNG is a country with hundereds of different langauges.  Tok Pisin is a language that developed between early colonialists and their workers.  Over time it has developed into a language that many different groups use to talk to each other.  Most of my students had their early schooling in Tok Pisin.  Then in the upper grades they start learning English. Since very few peole use Tok Pisin as a first language, it has asmall vocabulary.  There isn't a large vocabulary, so often people end up using a phrase for what would be one word in English.  So, a toenail is the cover of the finger of the leg.  A fingernail is the cover of the finger.  It is not suprsing that English words end up being substituted.  The Pigin word for Easter, is Ista, which makes sense. phonetically. However, the Pigin phrase for Passover is the equivalent of Day All Jews Celebrate Leaving Egypt. I use the word Passover instead!  I have been told that it is very hard to do legal work in Pigin since words are not very precise.  Advanced study, such as law and medicine, is done in English.  Our theological discussions generally are in Pigin with English words thrown in as neccesary.

How many Bibles do you want to buy? - Numeracy

    I came here aware of literacy issues (being able to read and write), but have become more aware of numeracy (being able to use numbers). Our students vary in their ability to do math, but all are able to do simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division (though we have a review a the start of the frist year),  However, many of the people in the villages have a very limited knowledge of numbers, largely due to a lack of schooling I believe.  This is accentuated by the fact that some languages don't have a complete set of number words (e.g. 1,2,3,4,5,many).
     I notice it mostly in the book store.  Sometimes people from neighboring villages come to buy
Bibles and hymnals and have a very limited idea as to how many they can buy for the money they have. I have learned that when people are buying things, to tell them how mach money they have left, not how much they have spent.  To tell them that the two bibles come to a total of 39 Kina may not tell them much.  However, if I say you have two bible for 39 Kina, so you have 11 Kina left, then they can judge if they have enough to buy something else.  Originally I was giving them their change and they would then count the money and decide if they could buy anthing else.
     My friend Demaris, who is a doctor at the local hospital, gets some intersting answers to the number questions she asks.  Many people don't know their exact birthdate, but she is surprised at the age people think they are.  She has decided that 50 is a number that many people know, so they may say that if they don't know their age.   She was originally more surprised at the difficulty peole had in aswering the question "How many children do you have?" She has decided that some just think of the individuals and don't bother to put numbers to them.  Also, it may be hard to know which children to count.  Do you count the babies that died?  Do you count the two boys you took in when your husband's brother died?  Do you count the baby you gave to your sister when she was not able to have children?  She has learned to be more specific as to what she wants, such as "how many babies have you given birth to?
   I sometimes think of my seminary classmates from PNG.  I wonder what they were writing home about.?  What crazy things do Americans do?

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