White Girl Speaking Tonga

(Musimbi mukuwa ulawamba ci Tonga.)

We’re told that we should expect to be laughed at when we try to speak in Tonga, and that this laughter isn’t laughter per se, but rather pleasure that we’re trying to speak the language.

This time, I’m not sure about.
On Thursday, our recent heat wave finally broke slightly, so I walked to the market to get milk and bananas. There were no bananas, but I was successful in the acquisition of milk, which is what I’d really wanted, so I was pleased as I walked slowly home through the bright sunlight. Because the innovative school sends children home for lunch later than my work does, I was in time to encounter children walking home for lunch as I returned.

A short distance from my house, there was a group of about ten or fifteen children horsing around. One boy stood apart from the rest, a sort of sentry, as it were, because as I came within earshot I heard the cry trailing along through the group: “Muguwa, muguwa!” (white person), although there was no obvious reaction to my approach beyond a gradual shift from playing to walking along the path towards me in a sort of drifted clump.

As is my custom, I greeted them in Tonga as as I passed:
Mwalibiyze.” (Afternoon, and pronounced ‘mwa-lee-bee-hey.’)
Ee, mwalibiyze.” (Yes, afternoon.)

Mwalibiyze.
Ee, mwalibiyze boti?” (Yes, how is your afternoon?)
Kabotu. Mwalibiyze boti?” (Good. . . .)
Kabotu.

There was some laughter, and the next child along the road greeted me:
Komuli.” (You are there.)
Kotuli.” (We are here.)

I had a certain sense that I was being put through my paces, and it was only confirmed as the next child produced yet another greeting:
Muli bayumu?” (You are fine?) Although I didn’t recall the meaning at the time, I knew that the response was an emphatic:
Ee!

There was only one child left in front of me, a small child trailing along behind the others, on a path at a different angle to mine. As he approached, he called out, “Kamwamba!” (Talk/tell how you are!)
Kabotu!” (Good!)

The laughter rang out behind me as I walked the last 1/5 k to my house, but that was all right; I knew that I had passed with flying colors.

———

Other noteworthy features of this walk included two new uses of a chitenge: #9, backpack; and #10, makeshift bicycle basket. (Use #8 is to screen one’s head and arms from the sun while walking home from church (because of course you wore a chitenge to church like a decent woman, only it was really hot over the other skirt, so next time you’ll probably be indecent and not wear another skirt under it, even if it means that you go without pockets), in the style that I think of as Madonna Iconography).

Use #9 of a Chitenge.  This is one of the President Rupiah Banda MMD chitenges, that they gave out free in the lead-up to the election.  Alison says that they were all burned in Lusaka and that even wearing an MMD shirt can get you beaten up in the wrong part of town, but I still see the chitenges around here.  You can just see part of MMD over her shoulder, and the only distinct word in the big circle is an inside-out 'PROMISE,' around a picture of RB.  The little circle on the bottom is clock with the words 'THE TIME HAS COME -- MMD' around the outside, not that you can see that.  Note the skirt: Use #1 of a chitenge.

Use #9 of a Chitenge. This is one of the President Rupiah Banda MMD chitenges, that they gave out free in the lead-up to the election. Alison says that they were all burned in Lusaka and that even wearing an MMD shirt can get you beaten up in the wrong part of town, but I still see the chitenges around here. You can just see part of MMD over her shoulder, and the only distinct word in the big circle is an inside-out 'PROMISE,' around a picture of RB. The little circle on the bottom is clock with the words 'THE TIME HAS COME -- MMD' around the outside, not that you can see that. Note the skirt: Use #1 of a chitenge.

———

This isn’t about Zambia, but I’m here and I made it and I’m very proud of it, so I’m going to show it off.

Laminaria shawl

Laminaria shawl

You can also see my new teeth. For the curious, here’s the damage when I broke them a month ago. (There is some blood and broken teeth. It’s not too bad, but if I look less than entirely happy, it’s because I’d just broken my teeth.) This is actually the first look I got, seeing the picture on Kathy’s camera, because if anyone had a mirror with them, they didn’t offer it to me.

(Update on the teeth situation: I ate banana bread with my teeth Thursday night. They were somewhat tender, and after a piece or two, I decided that it was easier to keep breaking the banana bread and putting small pieces into my mouth.)

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “White Girl Speaking Tonga

  1. R&R

    Thanks for the update. We were wondering how you were doing. Your teeth look great and the shawl is gorgeous.

  2. Thank you for the picture of the broken teeth. (And the new ones. And the Laminaria.)

  3. Emily H.S.

    Congratulations on passing the impromptu greeting quiz. : )

    The shawl IS gorgeous. And it’s a lovely picture. In the other, you actually look surprisingly cheerful for having just broken your teeth.

  4. beautiful! and that is a lovely picture of you, too. Thank goodness for the new teeth. Hope they’re successful – you look great.

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