We’ve been in Kovol for a week and a half now and it feels like we’re starting to settle in. Up till now it’s been hectic bustling from waking up to crashing on our foam mattress at night. It’s been challenging to balance family, cleaning and unpacking, socializing with Kovol people and working on the projects that make our house more and more liveable.
Last night felt like a turning point though. Things are comfortable, there’s a bit of a routine and I could take an evening off to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies 🙂 (We were craving something tasty after the amount of taro and cooking bananas we’ve been eating!)
Gerdine has been doing the bulk of the socializing for our family. Every day the ladies here want to cook with us, which is a 3 or 4-hour event. Lots of garden food is brought, peeled and boiled in a large communal pot over the fire. Then it’s all shared out into bowls and we eat together. It’s nice, but every day? It gets a bit old – but there are always new groups of ladies who want to bond with us in this way. There are only 3 of our families for hundreds of curious Kovol people. It’s exhausting.
Oscar usually spends some time hanging out with Gerdine there, but it’s all a bit much for our little man who likes to avoid social situations whenever he can 🙂
That’s when he usually toddles off to find me. I’ve been spending most of my time on DIY projects. Furniture, railings for the veranda, sealing the leaks in the roof, wiring and getting our computer network set up so we’ll be able to share language data amongst our team.
There’s always something to do, and always Kovol guys watching on to see what I’m up to. I feel bad that I’m spending so much time working on our house. Our house is already a mansion by Kovol standards, but it’s not yet up to our standards.
Often the feeling of “I didn’t come here to have a nice house, I came here for these people!” hits me and I try and hang out with people; only to be reminded that at the moment hanging out means saying a few things and then sitting in companionable silence for five times as long as you were talking. At which point the need to do something and ‘be productive’ grabs me and I go back to DIY.
Language learning is going to take a lot of effort on my part! 😀
The first major misunderstanding
I’m sure there have been countless misunderstandings between us and our Kovol neighbours already (and in fact now I can think of one where someone came to a team member with fresh, hot from the fire bamboo shoots they wanted to give to our team, ready right now. Our coworker misunderstood and went into their house again. The guy hung around all day long waiting for us to not be busy and finally presented us with cold bamboo after waiting for several hours!), but yesterday was the first significant one.
I was laying ethernet cable in the ground between our houses and then putting the plug on the end, checking it and connecting it up to the access point at the Stous’ house. The ethernet cable tester we have always tells me the cable is broken no matter what I do, so my current method of testing is plugging my laptop in and pinging our server.
So anyway I’m outside with my laptop and some guys come over to see the new cable lying in the ditch we dug for it. I feel like I should explain what this cable is and make conversation and so I do.
I can tell it’s not going well. I’m working really hard in Tok Pisin to try explain what it is, but it’s just such a foreign concept I can tell they’re not getting it. In the end, the summary is that it’s a rope for computers to talk. That’s a satisfactory definition of a LAN cable for me so I leave it at that.
The next day these two guys come up to me and whisper in my ear “we need to talk about something”. It’s strange because this is the first time I’ve seen guys behaving suspiciously like they’re afraid of being caught. We head over to under my house and sit for a few minutes.
Eventually, the guys start talking and present me with a piece of paper with writing on it. It looks like they’ve written it themselves that day (take notes for literacy!). It’s all in the Kovol language and includes some symbols I don’t know what to make of. I recognise one of the words though, I’d recently learned that unim means name and the first line was God unim.
Then they present me with another paper with a triangle of symbols on it.
Now at this point, I’m really, really struggling to understand what’s going on. My best interpretation of what I was hearing was that at some point in the past (recent, distant?) someone came to an ancestor of theirs and told them something about God (the symbols). They wanted me to put it into my computer to see what it says.
Ahh. I have heard other missionaries tell me about the misunderstandings about computers they’ve dealt with. The internet being a connection to the spirit realm and able to contact ancestors of the dead being one of them.
My best guess then was that ‘road for computers to talk’ took on a spiritual meaning and I needed to take this message from their ancestors to the computer to see what it said.
I tried to explain then that computers are a bit like pen and paper. They only store information that you put into them, like putting papers in a box and that they don’t have a mind or a voice of their own. This didn’t seem to be explaining much and so then I went to “I don’t really know what you’re asking and I don’t understand this writing. When we’ve learned more of your langauge I’ll understand your question and I can help you with it.”
We’ll see what comes up from all this! At least though I’ve got a piece of paper with Kovol writing on it that we can work on translating much later! Pray for us, we have no idea what we’re doing!