I have been trying to find some more time for language learning as I am eager to make progress. It’s been almost 4 years since we moved into Kovol and I feel ashamed that I’m not more proficient in their language yet. I am wondering if the Kovol people are disappointed too and wondering what is taking us so long. Yet, I know I’m juggling language learning with many other things and so it just takes time. We were away for more than a year when Alice and Millie were born, there’s schooling Oscar which takes a big chunk of time and effort and there’s keeping two 2-year-olds entertained without any regular help with childcare, not to mention all the normal chores.

Now Alice and Millie are a bit bigger, I feel that I can try and push a little more for language learning. I want to be able to communicate with Kovol people, especially the ladies, so I squeeze in what I can.

A couple of days ago I wandered into our village intending to arrange for someone to take me to their garden to spend some time together. I wanted to get out of the confines of the village, but not too far! The Kovol people have learned that we white people don’t hike so well! Amon agreed to take me to her garden close by, just 10 minutes away. I had asked to go on Monday, having arranged for Steve to teach Oscar that day. But then on Friday Amon came by and said she wanted to go to her garden the next morning. This meant Saturday, our day off. Of course, I said I would come though.

We usually get up at 7, but on Saturdays, we enjoy a lie-in till 7:10 😀 Knowing Amon was coming though I made sure I was ready. Getting ready means putting sunscreen lotion on and filling a bag with my phone, my voice recorder, notebook and a couple of packets of salty crackers. Oh and my water bottle of course!

Sure enough, Amon showed up at 7:30, before I had even had breakfast! I couldn’t let her wait, so I put my shoes on and we set off on an empty stomach.

7:30 looked like the time for everyone to leave for their gardens. The thinking is that they like to get as much work done before the sun gets too hot and now during the wet season afternoons are usually rubbish for doing outside work.

The traffic jam I caused on the ‘high way’ to the gardens. Pigfences left and right.

There are several places down the mountain from our village where people have gardens, both close and far away, and often people have built houses by their faraway gardens. Then whenever they have lots of work to do they can go and stay at their garden houses and don’t need to make the hike each day. They even have a word to say ‘I have just come for a little bit and will return to my garden again later’ and another word for ‘I have come to stay here’. Anyway, the garden we were going to was close by and it was kind of on the highway to the other gardens down the hill.

It was a good thing the garden wasn’t too far. I feel like I am the slowest hiker ever. The word for slow in Kovol was one of the first I learned 🙂 I am afraid to slip even with my grippy, trail running-shoes on. There was a lot of rain the night before and also a tree had fallen over, blocking the road. So even though we didn’t go very far, I caused a little traffic jam on the highway with my slow pace. The other people going to the gardens were queueing up behind me sliding over the slippery trail. I have to say it’s the first rush-hour traffic jam I’ve seen here in Kovol!

break time from weeding

Soon enough we arrived at the garden though and then the next challenge came, climbing the fence. Sturdy fences need to be built around gardens to prevent hungry pigs from coming in and demolishing all the food! It turns out that those fences are good to keep me out too 🙂 It seems pigs and I have something in common! Anyway, in the end, I made it inside and we got to work.

This time of year, most people have finished planting all their new gardens. The process of making a new garden entails clearing the piece of jungle with men cutting down trees and ladies clearing the undergrowth. The trees that have been cut are then used to build a fence around the garden. After that the area gets ‘broomed’ and all the rubbish gets burned. Then it’s time for planting. They typically have a yam garden and a separate sweet potato garden. In the sweet potato garden, they also plant corn, greens, beans, taro and cucumbers.

When this work is all done, the only job left to do is to control the weeds so the food grows well. That was the job we came to do. Amon had done most of the weeding already. I don’t think they weed the whole garden all at once; it’s just too big. So we came to do part of it. The sun was already pretty hot although it was so early, and with all the shade gone it’s sweaty work.

I tried to speak as much as I could, practising my Kovol, recording phrases I heard Amon say such as ‘That tree root might pierce you’ or ‘the mosquito will sting you’, the everyday phrases that come up that I understand, but don’t easily produce myself. I felt like I wasn’t having a very good language day. It being Saturday and my having worked hard the whole week might have something to do with it. Nevertheless, it was still good practice.

After a while we sat down for a little break. I straight away grabbed my water and shared my crackers as I was getting pretty hungry by now. Amon went for her betel nut. We worked a little more and then around 11 Amon decided we’d done enough and we headed for home. We took another way home as we’d worked up the hill and were now closer to a different road. I managed to climb out of the garden without breaking the fence and we walked home.

story time after the work

I invited Amon to come and sit on our porch for a bit and I made sweet tea for her, giving myself the opportunity to rehearse to her in Kovol a monologue of what we’d just done. After my attempt, I asked Amon to give her version and grabbed the audio recording to listen to and study later.

During the morning Amon kept saying about how hard they have to work. When the garden work is all done they have to go to the stream to wash clothes, then they have to fetch food, water and firewood. I don’t disagree; life is hard work for the Kovol people! They think that our lives in contrast are very easy. We stay in our houses, the chopper comes to bring our food and gas bottles, and we have a machine to wash our clothes. She’s right. We are much more comfortable.

Alice enjoying some speculaas

It raises feelings of guilt in me. I can feel overwhelmed, exhausted, overworked and stressed, and at the same time feel guilty for my life being so comfortable and easy. Both we and the Kovol people have challenging lives, just very different challenges and it can be quite hard to be told how easy and idyllic our lives are compared to theirs while feeling the stress and sacrifice of it. It’s quite a jumble of internal emotions to process. Maybe one day I’ll be at the stage language-wise where I could talk about that 🙂

All laid out for sinterklaas


Bobbi Scholl · 07/12/2023 at 10:18 pm

Thank you for sharing Gerdine. Full language days are physically and mentally exhausting. You’re doing great work! I can see how you might feel bad – but I guarantee no one on this side of the world thinks your life is easy! I’m truly amazed by your life and work there. Praying for you all and the hearts of the Kovol people. Merry Christmas 🎄
Bobbi Scholl

Lois S. · 08/12/2023 at 6:39 am

Do you make peppernuts for your December 6 holiday? That is one thing I did this year.

Carol · 08/12/2023 at 8:22 am

Well done Gerdine. We so appreciate your tenacity to continue learning Kovol so that can be a blessing to the ladies there. Those differences in our living standards are tough at times, so we keep praying for God’s grace to you. Wish we could be back to help some more with school and childcare😊

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