Saturday, December 27, 2008

Doctor Jesus: Authorized Dealer


Next time you get sick, you know where to go!

Christmas Culture (Shock)







Ugandans celebrate Christmas, big time. But, in different ways. Here you won’t find holly, Santa Claus, or Christmas cookies. Instead, you’ll find things like fish tied on cars’ grills to take to the relatives people are visiting, an assortment of festive hairstyles we’ve named ‘Christmas Hair’, and the evidence of hundreds of animals butchered for Christmas Day feasts. It’s going to take a few years for these varied celebrative expressions to give us that coveted, cozy Christmas aura.

The Pearl of Africa INDEED

Three days after we flew down to south Uganda for a break, we started a 6-day long holiday with some American friends, Travis & Kelsey Harris. Travis is a pilot with AIM Air who is stationed in Entebbe for the next three months. We headed out at 8am, driving west towards a town called Fort Portal. The roads were some of the best we've seen in Uganda, rivaling an American highway. Five hours later we set our eyes on Fort Portal for the first time. The first night we stayed at a campground called CVK Resort. It is located on one of the crater lakes in the area, Lake Nyabikere. Although a beautiful setting, the resort boasted more in the advertisements than it could really offer. The owners of the resort told us to watch out for a hippo that liked to roam around the crater lakes. While taking a walk that evening, we learned from some locals that the hippo had not been spotted in five years. It was a good story though. We slept well that night. The one thing we remembered distinctly of our experience there was that the frogs & crickets were making almost deafening music all evening.

The next morning after the continental breakfast (stale bread with yummy marmelade, egg of our choice, banana, and coffee/tea), we took a bumpy road to another area of Fort Portal. The day was gray and mists covered the lake. We were planning on spending the day in Fort Portal after we had dropped our bags off at the next hotel. We arrived at Mountains of the Moon hotel to find that we didn't want to leave. The hotel was a cozy and posh environment with lots of activities to choose from on the grounds. We relaxed by the pool, tried out a steam room, and drank tea while reading and watching the Rwenzori Mountains in the distance.



The next morning we were headed south towards a town called Kasese. Before reaching our next lodge we wanted to hike some in the Rwenzori Mountains. You can see them in the above picture. They actually have snowy peaks that were named by the Italians back in the day. After thirty minutes on another bumpy road and many staring Ugandans, we found a forestry office that could offer us a guided tour. They usually offer seven-day tours to tourists who want to reach the peak of Mt. Stanley (peak is called Margharita). We opted to hike three hours that day through a rain forest filled with fertile plants, exotic flowers, and just a few monkeys. The ground was wet and slippery as we were hiking near a rushing river. The guide told us that this particular area got about 250 cm of rain a year. I learned that our park guide, Solomon, has moved far away from his home village & family in order to keep his job and send money home. Sadly, this is the story of many Ugandans.



After leaving the Rwenzori's, we headed towards the Kingfisher Lodge. Before reaching it, we spotted a typical tourist trap....the equator sign. :)



The next two days would be spent at Queen Elizabeth National Park. It's a game park where birds and animals can be seen roaming freely. We drove for hours, spotting herds of cape buffalo, elephants, kob, warthogs around every corner, guinea fowl in the road, water buck & the spotted bush buck, one baboon staring at us from his tree perch, and a forest hog who was almost our dinner. He ran in front of our vehicle at top speed. We also enjoyed scenic views of crater lakes & valleys. After a dusty game drive, we decided to spend our afternoon on a river boat exploring the channel where some of the animals relaxed. The highlight of this trip was watching buffalo and hippos play together. We even spotted a baby hippo learning to swim. We passed a fishing village while on this tour and the villagers stared back at us as if we were the show. A boat full of burned muzungus in floppy hats with big cameras was probably a sight to behold.





The last two days of our trip were spent at Lake Bunyonyi, even farther south near the Rwandan border. I was tired of riding in a car by this time. We stayed at Bunyonyi Overland Resort which was located right on the lake. Our lodging was in tents, seated on platforms, elevated on stilts overlooking the lake. The view was spectacular from our tent and the weather was nice and crisp as we had drove up in elevation to get to the resort. The chilly nights reminded us all of Christmas weather. It was hard to get out of our warm beds at night to use the outdoor restrooms. We tried canoeing without success. The canoes were homeade dug-outs and ours kept turning in 360 degree circles. It was quite frustrating. It was even more frustrating to see the fishermen going out successfully in these canoes. A treat that we enjoyed at this resort was crayfish at dinner. They caught it fresh in the lake. We did have some unfortunate encounters at this campsite. The employees kept trying to overcharge us. We had to continually ask for receipts so we could see they were being honest. When we went canoeing, the guy informed us it would cost about $5. We agreed and went out and paid him when we came back. We then asked our friends if they had paid the same and they informed us it was only $2. We immediately went to the guy and asked for change, which he gave with a smirk. Terrill tried to talk with the manager of the campsite soon after the incident and the manager just shrugged off Terrill's concerns. This also happened to us quite frequently at meal times. The waiters claimed that they couldn't add right. They even asked for our help in adding the bill. We had a feeling that all the employees were in on some kind of scam. Needless to say, we probably won't return to that particular campsite for that particular reason.


So, this concludes our holiday. We had a long drive back to Entebbe but were excited to arrive home on the 24th and rest from travelling.

Bloglessness




We do apologize for the long episode of bloglessness. It’s just that the last two weeks before we flew down for Christmas holidays were insanely busy, and then we took a week-long getaway to western Uganda. Then it was Christmas. Then Boxing Day. Then…is now. We flew south this time because the thought of a two-day road journey was unbearable after being so worn out in Kaabong. We just needed to get away, fast. Two hours in the air versus two days on the road.

A Celebratory Goat














Before we were due to leave for our Christmas holiday in south Uganda, our employees approached us and asked if we would donate a goat for them to eat on Christmas day. It is a popular tradition for people to eat meat on Christmas day and the meat of choice in Kaabong is almost always goat. We talked with our compound neighbors (MedAir) about this request and decided that we would throw a party for the employees before Christmas so we could enjoy the goat roast together. So, on December 13th, we purchased our goat for 32,000 Ugandan shillings (it equates to about $16). Our day guard, Nguran, spent most of the morning slaughtering and preparing the goat for roasting. I volunteered to provide some seasonings & oil for him to marinate the meat in. He also cleaned out the intestines of the goat and boiled them as a special delicacy for the employees. The muzungus (white people) in the group did not participate in devouring this delicacy. Besides the goat, we were providing chips (french fries), stromboli, carrot cake, and cokes. The party was supposed to start at 3pm, but in true African tradition, we started at 4pm. Everyone gathered around our portico and there was a period of awkward silence before Terrill said some words of gratitude for the service they'd provided us the past six months. Next, the Project Manager of the MedAir team stood and said a few words along the same lines. After a prayer, the food was passed out and eaten in a contented silence. At least I hope it was contented, although it might have been more awkwardness. After the food was eaten and the hands were washed (everyone was eating with their fingers), most of the employees headed over to the MedAir compound to lift weights and admire those that could show-off while lifting weights. Terrill & I headed back to the kitchen where a mound of dishes stood. I must admit that goat fat was the most disgusting thing I think I've ever had to wash off dishes. The night ended with my feet up and a book in my face.



Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving




One thing about living in a remote, semi-desert corner of Uganda is that major American holidays like Thanksgiving tend to fail in delivering that warm, familiar holiday feeling we're used. Still, this Thanksgiving, we were fortunate enough to celebrate our thankfulness with some friends from Medair. Amber prepared a morish meal of pork loin, mashed potatoes, golden oats, glazed carrots, pumpkin pie and a simply unbelievable apple pie. Each one of us at the table shared at least five things we were thankful for, and for the rest of evening we basked in the glow of friendship and communal gratitude. Thanks!

Ik Orthography Workshop




Our organization likes its catch-phrases just like any other. 'Orthography Workshop' might as well be called 'Alphabet Meeting'...whatever we call it, we held our first one this past Saturday. I spent about three hours discussing the Ik language and how to write it, while Amber cooked us up a delicious lunch. It was an enjoyable, memorable occasion. I'd spent the last several months researching all the sounds of the Ik language and thinking about what letters we could use for them in the Ik alphabet. Recently I felt it was time to get some influential Ik leaders together and ask them to choose the alphabetic symbols they like the best. If only it were that easy...




If it was just a matter of choosing symbols, we could choose anything to represent the sounds of a language, including & % $ # and @. Some of the factors we have to consider are: how easy will the alphabet be to type on a keyboard, how much should it resemble other languages in the area, how easy will it be to teach and learn...etc. As of Saturday, the Ik have decided on the letters they want to use, and now I need to run their choices by my consultants.




The Ik want their language to look different than other languages. It would be convenient if the Ik alphabet could resemble Karamojong, Swahili, Luganda, or English. But then again, English, German, French, and Spanish have different looking alphabets. I believe part of the reason for their desire to be different is the fact that they've been marginalized and oppressed for decades. They are determined to be their own people and to be recognized as such. I can't blame them for that. It's just amazing that deep-seated, long-standing ethnic identity issues can affect something like an alphabet so practially. The Ik men at this meeting rejected certain letters for the sole reason that they looked like Karamojong letters. Because of that, we had to choose letters that aren't easy to find on keyboards. This whole process involves balancing a host of diverse factors. It's difficult, but I feel very privileged to be a part of the process. And so might you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lwala







Last Saturday I went to climb an 8,055-ft. mountain called Lwala. Accompanying me were friends Nguran, JB, and Jonathan. We parked at a school at the foot of the mountain and hired three schoolboys to guide us up the steep incline. I had forgotten how deceptive mountains can be. Mountains in Karamoja seems even more deceptive than ones elsewhere. Must be a cultural things...oh, wait. What I mean is, at all stages of the hike, the mountain always looked smaller than it really was. It was never as easy as it looked to get from point A to point B. Every ridge above me that I was sure must be the peak, was just another terrace in the mountain's slope. By the time we reached the top, I was exhausted and out of water. Nevertheless, the view was breathtaking, as was the coldish wind and fragrant flora. On the very top we found a tree like a cedar or cypress growing amidst the rocks. Some kind of grass was growing there that smelled so refreshing, Nguran said smelling it was like 'drinking cold water'. I agreed. Wildflowers---at least fifteen different species---blossomed all around. Unfortunately, I forgot the camera, so all I can offer is a couple photos from after-the-fact. Finally, on the way down, I was thirstier than I have ever been in my life. Seriously. I could think of nothing but water. Let me say, when I got home and took that first gulp of water, I knew what heaven must be like. Pure slaking of the thirsts of corruptability.

The Changing Seasons


The rainy season is finally over and the dust storms have returned. We go to sleep with the wind howling and awaken with the blinds bumping against the windows. A fine layer of dust is covering everything in our house. When I take a walk, I can taste the dust in the air. Despite all this, the roses are still blooming!

How to Write

The first major phase of our Ik language development project is to create an alphabet for the Ik language. It would be easier if we could just invent letters for the different sounds, but naturally, we’ll be using this very Roman alphabet. Of course, we’ll have to tweak it a bit, add some other symbols and marks. One of the steps in the process is to decide how to write what are called ‘ambiguous sequences’. This is hard because, well…it’s ambiguous. Some sounds can be thought of as vowels (u) or consonants (w). Imagine the sound of the final syllable of the English word soliloquy. The letters /q/, /u/, and /y/ aren’t exactly the most straightforward way to write this sound, but…how would you write it? In linguistic, phonetic writing, that sound could be written in the following 9 ways (actually, it could be written in at least 6 more ways than these; I just can’t use the proper fonts on this blog):

kui
kuy
kwiy
kuwi
kuyi
kwi
kwiy
kwuy
kwy

It’s just my luck that Ik is full of such ambiguous segments. Help!

The Englishes of the World

English is a world language, but every now and then, someone here in Uganda expresses their surprise at hearing that 'English' is our mother-tongue. I guess it's because it's second or third or fourth language for many Ugandans, as well as many Europeans who come here. In any case, as an American, I can assure myself that what people here speak as 'English' is not my mother-tongue. As the following examples highlight, a language consists in more than the words at face-value, but also the context, appropriate time and style of expression, and other factors.

The other night I asked our night-watchman how he was, and he replied: 'Sir, I am very fine because...I am enjoying your life and work.'

I brought a mid-morning snack out for my language informant. When he saw the garlic-roasted peanuts, he exclaimed, 'Very handsome!' At the sight of the fruit punch that I set before him, he added, 'Very fantastic!'

And some more priceless specimens from around the world:

In the window of an Istanbul souvenir shop: Sorry, we are open.

In a Taiwanese hotel room: Please beware of strangers dangling in the lobby.

Name of a store in China: Warm and Fragrant Bird

On an Indonesian Menu: Amiable and Sour Pork

In the window of a laundromat in Thailand: For best results, drop pants here.

In a Mexican brochure: Come to Juan's Jewelry Shop. We won't screw you too much.

In a German hotel: Serve You Right

In the washroom of a German train: To obtain water, move the handle to the left or to the right, indifferently.

On a Chinese train: Please do not throw yourself out the window.

In a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.

Doorway signs in the Nigerian National Theater: "In Entrance," "Out Entrance"

Notice in a public bathroom in Italy: This WC is Goof for Everyone. Would You Like to Come Back Using It? Collaborate with Education. Don't Throw Bodies Solid into Toilettes!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Death at Our Doorstep


Or, at least on our sidewalk. Yesterday around noon I (Terrill) was walking over to our neighbors' house for a game of chess. I stepped outside our back-door and looked ahead to where our dog Buddy was waiting for me. I took a couple of steps forward on our sidewalk when, all of a sudden, a 5-6 ft. snake shot out from just a few feet from where I was walking. My heart nearly stopped. I didn't have the wits to follow the snake enough to know where it went. Instead I ran to our neighbors', called them, and they responded with an arsenal of sticks and other blunt weapons. Unfortunately (or not!), we never found it.


Looking in our snake book later, I confirmed that what I saw and nearly stumbled on was a Cape Cobra, which the book describes as 'unfortunately...both nervous and deadly'. The snake delivers 120-250 mg (ml?) of venom, of which 15-20 is enough to kill an adult human. Needless to say, I was shook up, and I think we are all being a little more cautions of where we tread. As of this morning, I've launched an offical 'snake habitat reduction' campaign on our compound.

Blog Settings

Sorry to all of you who have been frustrated over not being able to add a comment to our posts. I have just changed the settings to allow anyone to leave a comment.

We look forward to hearing from you!

(The reason we don't answer most comments is that we have very infrequent access to the internet. So when we do have access, we usually prioritize making new posts over commenting on comments. BUT, we LOVE to hear from you. So don't stop. :)

Bee Kind











Such was the theme of a vacation Bible school at a church in Virginia this past summer. Those kids (and their parents) donated funds to bee used in an Ik bee-keeping project. This was the first somewhat major community development project (besides healthcare among the Dodoth) we’ve undertaken, so we were very cautious in handling the money. I wanted to hand the cash to the carpenters myself and load the constructed bee-hives directly onto a truck to take them to Kamion (in Ik-land). No middle men. No muddling up. Our caution paid off, it seems, and last weekend we loaded twenty solid, wooden bee-hives and trucked them to Kamion. The cheapest transport for hire was more money than we wanted to spend, so in the end we used our personal vehicle. It was very satisfying to offload the hives and assuage the worries of the Ik. They have been the butt of many development schemes rife with deceit and corruption, and as such have adopted a more or less ‘believe it when I see it’ attitude. The poor condition of roads and the insecurity of the area make successful development projects all the rarer. After two weeks of waiting with no word of the bee-hives’ progress, the Ik of Kamion finally saw their hopes fulfilled. On behalf of the Ik, we extend a BIG thank you to the church in Virginia for their real-life, concrete attempts to bee kind. We also invite any of you to buy more bee-hives for the Ik of Kamion and other areas. A good, wooden hive is going for about $25.

'Bad Luck', as they say


Last Wednesday afternoon I thought I was finished seeing patients for the day when a father and his daughter showed up. The previous week, this pair had visited me because the child was hit in the face with a rock while at school. The poor seven year-old was in the wrong place at the wrong time; she got in the middle of a fight between two other big kids. I was glad to see that her wound had healed but dismayed to find a new wound on her face. Her father said she’d been standing over the fire at home, trying to help her mother when the oil splashed up into her face. It looked like a third-degree burn over the eye with a second-degree burn around it. She couldn’t even open her eye because of the burn location. Her father said that the incident had happened on a Monday night and that they couldn’t go to the hospital until the next day (due to insecurity at night). On Tuesday, they took the girl to the hospital only to be given tetracycline and told nothing else could be done. I then saw her another day later and gave her the first dose of pain medication she’d had since the incident. I also showed the father how to clean the wound and apply burn cream. They walked away with instructions about how to treat the wound and give the child pain medication. I couldn’t get over the look of misery on the child’s face. It’s hard to see one so young being traumatized by life at an early stage.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fearing the Unknown


When we first arrived in Kaabong back in June, some village elders found out that I was a nurse and people started showing up at our compound all hours of the day. After several crazy months of seeing sick people whenever they chose to show up, I’ve gotten the community into a schedule that works better for me and keeps me sane. First I had to seek permission from the Medical Supervisor at the hospital to be treating people for minor health problems. It’s really just a lot of first-aid that I do on a day-to-day basis. I now see people on M/W/F and some Saturdays from 9am-1pm (African time…so I’m usually late).

Last Wednesday, the first two patients I saw were men who both had scabies. Basically, scabies are mites that get underneath the skin and make people itch. When someone comes to me with this problem, I make them bathe first before applying Malathion cream to the affected area. I gave a bucket of warm water and a bar of soap to the first man who complained of this problem. He was a thin but well-dressed man. While he was bathing, the other man came and presented with the same problem. I told him to go around back and bathe with the first man. Men here all bathe together and don’t mind nudity as much. The second man went around the shed but came back quickly and said he wanted another bucket, different water, and new soap. I was perplexed. I asked what his problem was but he wouldn’t say. He got a new bucket and headed down to our borehole (well) to bathe there. While he was gone, the first man presented himself before me clean and ready for the lotion. I held the bottle and poured lotion into his hand so that he wouldn’t contaminate the bottle by putting his fingers in the medicine. He smeared himself up and walked away happy. The second man returned from bathing five minutes later and I asked if he was ready to put the lotion on. He asked me if the first man had already used lotion from my bottle. I told him ‘yes’. He then politely refused the lotion and said he’d be on his way. Again I asked him what was wrong and this time he said that he didn’t want to use the same lotion that the other man used. I informed him that I had poured the lotion directly from the bottle into the man’s hand and that the man had not handled the bottle. Still, the man refused and left. Later our day guard explained everything. The first man who had come for scabies treatment was HIV positive and the other man had known this. He was scared to touch anything that the first man had touched, even refusing medicine from the same bottle.

As I talked with our day guard about the need for HIV education in the area, he agreed that most Karimojong people have misconceptions about HIV. School children are taught about HIV but many, many people don’t go to school and don’t receive this training. As a result, those with HIV carry a stigma. It’s really a sad situation that people don’t understand the disease and treat others badly as a result. I tried to think about how we treat HIV positive people in the U.S. and I’ve realized that it’s not much different than the Karimojong treat their people. Deep down, many Americans still hold fears when around HIV positive people and even an ‘advanced’ society discriminates against their own.


Endangered Languages











Last weekend Amber and I had the privilege of spending time with one of the rare remaining speakers of Nyangi. It was said that this speaker, an old man named Lokoli Isaac, is one of three surviving elders who know the ‘real’ Nyangi. Nyangi is important to me because it was the same language as Ik, probably a century ago. At some point a group of the Ik relocated from their current mountain home to another small mountain range several days’ walk westward. Over the years, the Dodotho (Karamojong), Toposa, and Mening peoples filled in the gap between the two Ik groups. The Nyangi slowly assimilated linguistically to their diverse neighbors. The language today is a mixture of Ik, Dodoth, Mening, Didinga, and Acholi…and who knows what else.

I’m interested in getting a record of Nyangi for a several reasons. First, it is part of a holistic attempt to truly know the Ik people in such a way that when I help translate the NT into Ik, I have as much background knowledge of their language as possible. Second, it’s part of SIL’s core values to make our findings available to the world at large. Since I have the privileged position of being on the ground in Karamoja, where I can access the Nyangi, I want to gather and share all that I find with anyone who’s interested. Third, interest in a people’s language usually generates a measure of prestige and cultural pride (the good kind), such that loving the Nyangi language somehow translates into loving the Nyangi people. Fourth, when a language—a way of expressing the world—dies out, it is simply a loss to humankind. There are many similarities between biological diversity and linguistic diversity. When an animal, bird, fish, or insect becomes extinct, we should be grieved because a unique species that God created has vanished forever. Likewise, when a language goes extinct, a unique species of human culture vanishes forever. These extinctions are, of course, inevitable, but I consider it a worthwhile cause to slow their happening. And fifth, I like to explore the country with my lovely sidekick, Amber!

To reach the Nyangia, we drove about three hours west, the last thirty minutes of which were down a ‘road’ half the width of our vehicle. We reached Lobalangit, the ‘urban’ center of the Nyangi. Having got advanced notice, they were ready for us, and we were able to start almost right away. In about an hour’s time, we recorded 150 Nyangi words and one Nyangi story on video and audio. The video is just to have a record of a Nyangi speaker speaking Nyangi. The audio I have transcribed, and the transcriptions can be used by historical linguists to compare with other languages. This helps them know which language are, or might be, related ‘genetically’, allowing them to piece together better pictures of African history. I couldn’t recognize most of the Nyangi words, but some of them were clearly from Ik. And the ones that are from Ik have changed from Ik in systematic ways. For example, the Ik word ats’esa meaning ‘to eat’ has become hajetha in Nyangi. So we can hypothesize that /a/ in Ik changes regularly to /ha/ in Nyangi, as does /ts’/ to /j/ and /s/ to /th/. We can expect to find these same sound changes in other words, and in fact, we have.

On the way back from Lobalangit to Kaabong we had a couple adventures, such as when a well-dressed, distinguished-looking drunk man tried to force his way into our truck, and when 5,000-10,000 cattle occupied the road that we were trying to drive on.








It's still all Ik to me

In my linguistic research into the Ik language, I’m moving beyond just collecting lists of single words. Now I’m gathering lists of sentences and even whole texts, like stories. As a result, I’m starting to pick up on some of Ik’s interesting, unique characteristics. For example, Ik expresses the ‘present progressive’ tense in a peculiar way. English expresses the same tense by adding the suffix ‘-ing’ to the end of verbs, as in: ‘She is cooking’ or ‘he is running home’. If I’m not mistaken, German and Spanish mark the present progressive in a similar way: by adding a suffix to the verb. French, on the other hand, expresses an action being carried out at the present moment by adding the phrase en train de, which means something like ‘in the process of…’ So if one says in French il se lève, that can mean both ‘he gets up (normally, usually)’ or ‘he is getting up’. But if a French speaker really wants to stress the idea that the person is in the process of getting up right now as we speak, she might say il est en train de se lever.

In Ik, the present progressive tense is expressed by adding a conjugated form of the verb cem before the infinitive of the main verb in question. The root cem means ‘fight, battle, make war’. If one wanted to say ‘she braids her sister’s hair’ in Ik, it would come out like sikwá sits’á eyáti (literally, ‘braids-she hair of-sister’). But to signify an action of braiding hair in the present moment, as an ongoing activity, an Ik might say instead cema sikwéso sits’á eyáti, which reads literally ‘fighting-she to-braid hair of-sister’, and in translation ‘she is braiding her sister’s hair’.

Now, it’s tempting for a linguistic anthropologist like myself to read an interpretation into all this. At first glance, it would appear that in the worldview of the Ik, life is such a struggle that it’s a real fight, a battle, to carry out any activity. It would seem that for humans in a difficult situation like that of the Ik, life is war—war against the world. To willfully accomplish anything, one must fight it out with the opposing forces. Moreover, if there is famine (as there has often been among the Ik) and disease, bringing weakness of body and will, to do anything right now and continuously may feel like a battle. But as tempting as this interpretation might be, I must keep in mind a phenomenon known to linguists as grammaticalization, which is just a five-dollar word that means this: languages tend to take, over time, certain words with very specific meanings and turn them into words that have a grammatical function rather than a specific meaning of their own. For example, in the French, it’s possible (though I’m not sure), that the phrase en train de really used to be related to the English word train. Both ‘trains’ and ‘continuous activities’ kind of process along a path, such that it’s not hard to see the relation. But today, the phrase en train de also has a grammatical function, which is to give verbs a progressive feel. Another example would be the English word get. Alone, get means ‘to receive’, ‘to acquire’, ‘to fetch’, etc. But in modern English get can have the grammatical function of causation. ‘To get the car washed’ means ‘to cause the situation in which the car is washed’. The point is that over many generations, speakers lose sight of the meanings of certain words that end up taking on grammatical functions. As such, it’s quite possible that the Ik word cem no longer evokes a sense of struggle when used to denote the present progressive tense. If that’s the case, then the word cem has been grammaticalized.

But that brings up interesting questions about the origin of the Ik language, and of human language in general. If cem has been grammaticalized and has lost its original, vivid overtones, that implies that at some point in history it had not yet been grammaticalized! So even though it may be inappropriate for me to read a meaning into cem that is not there today, it may still be true that in the shrouded past of the Ik, their intense life-and-death struggle left its tell-tale mark on the Ik language itself. As we ponder the mysterious origins of language, we can imagine peoples all over the globe reacting and responding to their environment and giving linguistic expression to it. Today, our languages are littered with forgotten historical artifacts. The ancient, primal expressions of our ancestors have been layered over again and again by the sediment of time. How many of you think of the fact that the word express, originally from Latin, at some point in history meant ‘to squeeze out’, such that to ex-press something may have meant ‘to squeeze a word out of something’ or maybe ‘to squeeze a word out of yourself about something’? Or what about how we express the ‘future tense’ in English? Have you ever considered that when you say ‘I will weed my garden’, you may be echoing people hundreds of years ago, for whom to bring the future into the present, an exertion of will was required? ‘Will you come tomorrow’ means ‘do you will to come tomorrow?’ ‘Will you to come tomorrow?’ ‘Will you will to come tomorrow?’

In the end, ‘exerting your will to make the future present’ (English future tense) and ‘engaging in a struggle to remain in the present’ (Ik present progressive tense) are both profound indicators of what it means to be human. And that’s why I love language.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Visit Too-Soon Over


Arlin on Kaabong Hill: 'Veni, vidi, vici!' (I came, I saw, I conquered:). The dark green patch to the right of Arlin's left knee is the compound where we live.


Velma with some Ik children in Kamion.



All of us on the Ik escarpment bordering Kenya.


Sitting on a 'di', an Ik place of gathering, counselling, philosophizing, watching.




Terrill's parents, Arlin and Velma Schrock, were able to come over for a long-anticipated two-week visit. It was wonderful having them around to share in our daily lives. Our visit was over far too soon! Wazazi, karibu tena!










The Roads of Karamoja