Returning to Kovol we gave ourselves 2 weeks of settling-in time. Time we wouldn’t stress too much about getting language-learning time in, and time we could help our family transition into bush life. Things were going so well though that after 3 days of organising and cleaning, we found ourselves saying “wow, our house is in really good condition”, and our kids were doing really well.
I couldn’t resist the urge to throw myself into language learning on Monday then, aiming for half a week. Monday went so well though that Tuesday and Wednesday turned into full days as well; but then I remembered: one day of language learning is easy but 5 is Hard (with a capital H!).
The general feeling we have is really positive. We love language learning. We’re enjoying sitting with our friends and catching up… Well not really catching up; that’s more of a western thing. We imagined lots of “How’s it been going? What have you been doing?” talks where we share about our time at home – but that’s not really a Kovol thing and we’ve settled into the normal conversations along the lines of “Yesterday we went to that village and then we came back”.
We’ve been encouraged because now we’re at home much comes back. We’re certainly rusty; but we’re still able to use the Kovol language to freely compose new phrases. Oscar and I crouched down to watch a swarm of ants carrying a banana spider off under our house and along came some Kovol kids. “We’ watching the ants eat the big spider” I was able to say. It’s encouraging, even if I find myself tripping over the right endings for verbs and using the verb for “to go up” rather than “to go down” as I should have.
Another positive is that Alice and Millie are allowing themselves to be handled by our Kovol friends, which helps out a lot. Kovol culture is geared towards child care. If we plonk them on the grass they get a tonne of attention and eventually end up being picked up and carried around to be shown different things.
While I was home in Europe, listening to recordings of the Kovol language was old, and stale, but here it’s a live language. Meeting someone on the trail and asking nɔŋ ɔndombogɔŋ tɔβogɔŋ? (where have you come from?) actually communicates something. It’s not just a string of meaningless sounds and the motivation to study the old recordings, get the pronunciation right and be able to pull it out when needed has returned.
Philip and Natalie have raced ahead in the time we’ve been gone and they’re having full-blown conversations with people which makes us excited to reach that stage. Rhett and Stacie have been in for a while now too and seem to be at about the same level as we are. Rhett is into map making and has made some sweet maps. Check this one out:
With all this encouragement it’s probably no wonder I just kept going, but wow is language learning tiring. Monday to Wednesday went really well, but I was worn through by Thursday. A few weeks ago I was working on the software project I had for NTM UK. First thing after breakfast I was at the codeface working, going all day and sometimes to 11pm – cranking out the hours to get as much done as possible so I wouldn’t need to do much for it while here in Kovol (which I managed!).
Those hours spent programming are so, so much easier than language-learning hours though. 8pm rolls around at the end of the day and I’m spent. I can hear the Stous family laughing and making noise with their kids, but I’m wondering if 8pm is too early for bed or not!
Waking up on Thursday morning I was exhausted, had neck pain (not used to sleeping on such a thin mattress!), a spot on my eyebrow had caused swelling all round my eye and my throat felt like I’d been gargling glass. I took an hour and a half nap in the morning (thanks Gerdine) and then enjoyed sitting in a shelter in the afternoon huddling with the Kovol people to keep warm during a rainstorm 🙂 Lots of time to practice talking about the weather and being cold 🙂
So we’re still working on finding the right tempo. Looking at the calendar we’re thinking we might spend the next 6 months here before heading out for a break, so it’s pretty important to find the right rpm to run at. It’s encouraging to see that Philip and Natalie managed it. They’ve made a chunk of progress while we were gone and they are in a much better place than when we left. The first year in Kovol was intense, but it seems things have relaxed a little bit since then. This is good news for our energy levels!