The best way to learn language is to engage all of your senses and experience what you’re learning about. You’re much more likely to remember the names of things and and words for actions if you learn it as you’re doing it. Not only that, you’re much more likely to get language that makes sense because you hear it used in context.
(If you ask your language helper nicely I’m sure he’d agree that yes you could say that you plural were holding a new, clean, red, small bowl in the past tense – but no one would say that!). Hence our language -learning style emphasizes being out and about far more than labouring at a desk.
What’s cool is when the Kovol guys start to realise that and instead of coming to our house to sit around the fire and throw language at us (still useful), they come and invite us to be part of an event.
Last week we were invited to hike an hour and a half away to a brand new garden so we could make a fence.
Getting to spend the day fence making had a larger payoff than just learning the words for fence, carrying, placing and tying rope. We’ve been involved in other garden activities and this time we felt we’d gotten enough of a picture to learn about the yearly cycle and nail down the stages of making a garden. That’s a whole other blog!
Anyway, after clearing (with machetes) an area of the jungle on the mountainside (think so steep if you fall you could go all the way to the bottom) it’s time to build a fence to keep pigs out.
Domestic pigs are an important source of protein, but they can also make a mess of a garden. In fact, recently a pig got into our little garden and in one night laid waste to every corn plant we had growing there! Piggie had a good feast, but unfortunately lost his eyes for it. The Kovoi practice is to gouge out the eyes of larger pigs (the owner using his thumbs if you’re curious) when they become ‘big heads’. He’s no longer able to find the way to our garden – problem solved!
We didn’t care about the lost produce too much – but if your family’s food for the year was scoffed by a herd of pigs you could imagine the problems it could cause! Thus a pig fence all the way around your garden is necessary for every new garden (and gardens are cut every year – so you start to get an idea of the constant work it is to eke out a living here in the jungle).
Making a fence is a big job and so the papa of the garden called for help and the community answered. There were 30-40 of us there for the day to get the fence done and dusted. That day’s work would take months if someone had to do it alone!
Step 1 is to gather lots of logs and sticks. Luckily, having just cleared the jungle and cut down all the trees in your new garden area, you have lots lying around. So it’s “down the mountain, grab a log and bring it up” time. Hard work!
Step 2 is to lay the biggest logs down as a base, plant some sticks down as posts and then gradually stack up logs and sticks.
Step 3 is to tie the two upright fence posts together with vine (all collected from the bush beforehand in preparation for the work day) in order to tie it all together. The fence becomes surprisingly strong at this point – a few guys working together wouldn’t be able to shove it over, let alone a curious piggie.
The fence quite quickly takes shape. It took about 6 hours of work to fence a 50m stretch of the boundary of the garden (which was the goal for the day, to do the fence at the top of the garden).
There’s a constant bustle of activity. Some people collecting sticks, some placing them, some tying vine and some taking smoke breaks.
Meanwhile the ladies are cooking pots of food to fuel the work force (making a fence is work for men).
A final step is to go along and fill in any small holes with twigs and sticks. I ask why and they tell me it’s so the pig can’t smell the food. If the pig can smell the food he’ll break the fence down and get into the garden.
At the end of the day we’ve finished the top fence for the garden leaving 2 sides still to do – massive work! Not only does every family do this every year but there are often internal fences in a garden too as damage control in case a pig does get in!
I did learn though that over the river there aren’t any pigs and so fences aren’t needed. Another tidbit is that pigs aren’t the only animals after food from the garden – cockatoos love to eat corn and fences don’t work on them! The answer is the tribal scarecrow 🙂 Apparently, they make an image of a man holding a bow and arrow ready to fire to scare the birds off; I can’t wait to see one!
The day of work done we turn tail to do the hour and a half hike home, at which point the rain forest lives up to its name and gives us a good drenching.
It was our first time making a fence and so all the vocabulary is totally new. We came away with pictures though which are language learning gold. We’ve arranged the pictures into a ‘photo book’ which we can point at and ask “What’s he doing?”. We get an audio recording of the response and we learn. Then we can ‘practise’ the pictures with people by telling them what’s going on, moving on finally to doing variations on the picture – now all in the past tense, now changing the people involved etc etc.
We’ll need to come back to this several times as we progress. There are interesting questions like “what happens if someone never answers a community call to work – do people refuse to work on his garden when he calls?”, “What jobs do you summon the community for and what does everyone do individually?”, “Do people enjoy community work days?”. Lots to learn!
My little photo book is growing. I hope that means my vocabulary is too!