The power was out this afternoon when I got home from church. I did not immediately notice this fact for two reasons: one, at 13 hours the natural sunlight is perfectly sufficient for lighting needs, and two, my neighbor Moses was watching a medical drama on his computer, so the building was hardly devoid of mechanical noises. It came back again before I had to lunch on sunlight-thawed frozen leftovers (I wasn’t trying to freeze the rice, but I did want to make sure that the sausage stayed frozen while I was in Choma last week, with the result that I accidentally froze just about everything in the fridge), which I was quite pleased about. The power went out again while I was showering, or possibly before that, while I was doing my laundry (I didn’t notice for much the same reasons as the first time), and I think it was very decent of it to allow me to make lunch. Here’s hoping for supper.
I spent four days in Choma last week learning Tonga. I have decided that the most difficult thing about Tonga (at least initially), aside from a total lack of cognates and commonality to English or Germanic or Romance languages, is that the consonants are not the same. They may look the same when written down, but it seems to me to be a convention generally agreed upon that sounds that are not really present in the English language will be represented by certain letters. K, for example, is rather more like G than like K, although softer than actual G (which is also present), so that the word kwena (nothing) is said more like ‘gwena’ than like ‘kwena,’ though not as forcefully as the name Gwen. Except for the occasions when it isn’t; I’m pretty sure that ndakuta (I am full/satisfied) is ‘dakuta,’ not ‘daguta.’ There’s also the sound that I’ve been calling ‘nyah’ in my head. No one seems to agree on how to spell this one, though the book we’ve been using most seems to use ng’, as in ng’anda, home. One of the other books says that it’s like the first N in ‘onion,’ which is sort-of is, but it’s more nasal than that, and it hangs longer.
There’s no distinction in Tonga between the letters L and R. It’s all written L, but in speech it may range anywhere between the two, and won’t necessarily be the same for two instances of the same word. (This carries over into English, too, so that Chris is as likely to be ‘Chlis’ as ‘Chris.’ No one’s tried to call me Miliam, though.) And B is a much softer sound than in English; like a Spanish B, it’s very close to V. At least for this one, I have practice in softening my Bs. And then there’s C, which is pronounced more like J, or perhaps Y, except for certain situations in which it’s CH, which possibly happens when it follows N? So the word cuuno, stool, I want to spell ‘juno,’ but with a soft j.
The other thing that’s difficult about Tonga is that there are different classes (‘modes’?) of nouns. I haven’t even been able to figure out if we’re declining them, or if they’re like gendered nouns, only there are too many genders, or what. But things change based on what noun you’re using, and I never know how. Luckily for me, I understand this so incompletely that it is not yet troubling me at all.
In good news, so far as I can tell, Tonga doesn’t conjugate verbs at all, just sticks extra little words in to indicate past or future, and adds a pronoun-prefix to indicate the subject (ndalumba is ‘I am thankful,’ and twalumba is ‘We are thankful’). And I don’t have to learn numbers, because Tonga only has numbers up to five, so everyone just uses English numbers.
Our lessons included cultural content in addition to just language.
We also made nsima (‘shima’), cornmeal dough. It’s white, and thicker than cornmeal mush (though also smoother), and the flavor is similar, but not as pronounced.
All in all, we had a good time, and I look forward to more lessons with Maureen over the next few months. I had minor adventures on the minibus getting back to Macha (seventeen people in a van with five rows of seats!), but there is not a permanent ridge in my legs, the mysterious greasy smear wore off, and the utter destruction of my new
canvas recycled plastic bottle bag was not more than a minor inconvenience, the milk did not leak too badly, and was not sour when I got home.
In culinary adventures, I made yogurt last night, and I have five avocados that I saw on the tree.