Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tickets to the Circus

Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth …” ~Genesis 11:7-8a

Long fo wik nau, mi lainim neu tok planti! Mi lainim Spanish long tupelo Krismas long skul, na mi bin i stap long Germany long onepela ten eight mun, tasol dispela kain lain, huriap na mas mekim, em i neu rot. Tok Pisin (narapela nem bilong em i Melanesian Pigeon) em i no hard tok (planti tok long English na German), tasol sampela samting mi tingting kranki. Mi lainim em tasol. Mi ken baim kaikai long maket (“How much is that?”), mi ken autim tok save (“I am going to the market”), mi inap klia wanem taim bilong hairim sampela samting (“I’m sorry, can you say that again?”), na mi ken trai wokim dispela tok long Tok Pisin (“What am I thinking?! There are probably many mistakes!”)

Language learning has consumed much of the last four weeks of my life. I took two years of Spanish in High School, and I lived (and functioned reasonably well) in Germany for 18 months, but this kind of learning, quick and necessary, has been a new experience. Tok Pisin (also known as Melanesian Pigeon) is not a difficult language (it borrows much from English and German), but some of the constructs are not, at least to my mind yet, logical. I’m learning, though. I can buy food at the market. (“Em i hamas?”), I can relay information (“Mi go long maket.”), I can understand (most of) what I hear spoken around me (“Sori, yu tok gen?”), and I can even attempt to translate this blog entry (“Mi tingting wanem samting?! No save, tasol mi tingting i stap planti tok kranki!”)

Manmeri long planti ples klostu hia save mipela neupela sumatin i kam long Pat na laik helpim mipela lainim planti Tok Pisin. Ol i isi isi long mipela na sopos tok bilong mipela em i kranki, ol ken stretim mipela hariap. Tasol, ol i manmeri long marimari. Ol lukim mipela na ol i amamas na tromoi long taim mipela go long rot (“Look! Here comes a Dyna full of white people!”) Wanpela man bin tok, “Sopos yu inap go long ples bilong panipasin long givim nating, yu go tu, a?” Mipela em i longlong samting, tasol wanpela taim bipo ol lukim waiskin na gat planti pret.

The people of the surrounding villages know that we are new students here and take the task of helping us learn very seriously. They are patient with us and quick to correct us when we mess up. But, they are very gracious people. They watch us and smile and wave when we drive by (“Luk! Dyna em i kam nau na em I pulap long waiskin!”). As someone said the other day, “Well, if you were given free tickets to the circus, you’d go too, wouldn’t you?” J We are an oddity, I know, but things weren’t always so lighthearted.

Long wik i go pinis, mipela lukim piksa calim “First Contact.” Em i autim stori long tripela brata long Australia kam long PNG long 1933 bilong painim gold. Dispela taim em i pastaim manmeri long Hailans lukim waiskin man. Ol i pret and tingting waiskin em mas i stap god o tumbuna die tru bipo na kam bek. Ol waitpela man gat klos na manmeri bilong Hailans ken luk liklik skin bilong ol tasol. Ol waiskin gat naispela samting tomihak, sol, na masket.

Last week, we watched a film called “First Contact.” It tells the story of three Australian brothers who came to PNG in 1933 prospecting for gold. This was the first time that the people of the interior Highlands had seen white-skinned people. They were afraid, thinking they must be gods, or reincarnated ancestors. These pale people wore bright colored skins and hardly any of their own skin showed. They had wonderful things, like metal axes, salt, and firearms.

Behain, manmeri long Hailans klia ol waiskin bin i stap man tasol. Ol i man long graun tu.

Eventually the people of the Highlands understood that they were men just like they were. That they were human.

Mi no tingting manmeri klostu long Pat tok nau, “Ol waiskin i god!” tasol ol manmeri hia save SIL na save mipela kam long PNG bilong helpim ol – wokim neupela wok bilong tok ples na behain givim Tok bilong God long manmeri bilong tok ples.

I don’t believe anyone around here thinks that we are gods, but everyone in this area knows about our organization and knows that we are here to help them – to help with language development and eventually to bring God’s Word to them in the languages of their hearts.

Bipo mi pinis, mi ritim tok long Peace Child, ritim long Don Richardson. (Don bin go long hap bilong sundaun long New Guinea long 1960 samting bilong givim Tok bilong God long Sawi. Em pastaim ol manmeri bilong Sawi lukim waiskin na ol tinting em i stap god.) Don tingting long amamas taim em kam long Sawi ples, em ritim:

I’ll close this entry with a quote from the book, Peace Child, by Don Richardson. (Don was a missionary who went to the Eastern side of the New Guinea island in the 1960s to reach the Sawi tribe with God’s Word. These people had never seen a white man before he arrived and they, too, thought he must be a supernatural being.) Reflecting on their enthusiastic (well, once they got over their initial fear) reception of his arrival, he wrote:

“If I had not been there that day to trigger that salute as an emissary of Christ, someone else’s emissary would have triggered it later, possibly with quite different motives and results. Those who advocate that the world’s remaining tribal groups should be left to themselves do not realize how naïve their notion is! The world just isn’t big enough anymore for anyone to be left alone! It is a foregone conclusion that even if missionaries do not go in to give, lumbermen, crocodile hunters, prospectors, or farmers will still go in to take! The issue is not, then, should anyone go in, because obviously someone will! The issue is, rather, will the most sympathetic person get there first?”

This circus clown would agree.

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(Updated 13 April 2013)