Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Basic monkey knowledge

We had a very productive day today. We have all the terminology fixed for the Bible stories and have started a bit on Mark, somewhat ahead of schedule. I spent the whole morning with Sarah going over unclear terms. She has the number for a lesser chief in Sepopa (in the Okavango Delta) who spends all day at the kgotla and has made his cellphone number available for consultation in the Bible translation process. May I take a moment, please, to point out how incredibly cool that is (there – it’s done). Anyhow, she spent a lot of time with him on the phone today, asking about various words. Here are some of my favorites, given as word pictures:

tiirwa - Monkeys like to come into your house. They will come in through any window that is open just enough for them to fit through. If you have something that a monkey can see on the shelf that he wants, he’ll just come through the window and take it. So, you take a piece of wire and make a circle and hang it in the window so that, if the monkey tries to come through the window to get that thing on the shelf, you will get him. In this scenario, the monkey is tiirwa. (used in Mark 1:13, reminds me of James 1:13-14)

We’re currently having a dickens of a time checking the Shiyeyi phrase in Mark 1:4 for baptisma metanoias eis aphesin amartiohn, a.k.a. ‘baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins’. It is currently rendered in Shiyeyi as inwengiso ye yi ku ldiikha shi ku patirwa zibi. Roughly back-translated, that means ‘baptism for the purpose/location of repentance related to sins being forgiven’. The phrase ‘Related to’ here has the sense of ‘having something to do with the concept that precedes it in an unspecified way’. It could mean that the ‘sins being forgiven’ is either the purpose or essence of the ‘baptism for repentance’. This would be a nice map for the ‘eis + ACCUSATIVE’ construction present in this phrase which can substitute for a predicate nominative (Wallace, p47). That means that the first thing in the pairing becomes or is essentially the same as the second thing. It could mean that the ‘baptism of repentance’ happens because of or by means of the ‘sins being forgiven’. Basically, though, I think the important thing is that the meaning of shi is as inclusive as the Greek term eis. I like that.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sticking you with the rent

This morning was tons of fun. We were going over all the stories and working out the finer points, differentiating different words semantically where we could, adding onfirmation where necessary for clarity, cutting things that didn’t add to the stories, etc.

Cool Shiyeyi word of the day: ikhiamina – “stick with the rent”

OK, that’s not the actual meaning. I’d be hard pressed to put it in the dictionary as follows but here is the conversation that clarified the meaning for me:

ME: What does it mean for someone to ikhiamina?

SARAH: It’s like if you and I were living together. We were always together and then, one day, I move to Maun [geograpical note: at least a full day’s drive away]. I don’t tell you that I’m going, I don’t call you with an address, nothing. I can’t be any help to you now. Finally, you call me and say, “Why did you ‘ikhiamina’ me?” You see?

ME: And did I leave without leaving you any money for my share of the rent?

SARAH: [laughing] Exactly.

It’s the word we’re using in the Bible Story “Jesus is crucified”, in the part taken from Matthew 27:46.

Friday, April 25, 2008

On being "yaramuned"

Cool Shiyeyi word of the day: yaramuna – turn upside down (literally), to answer in a way that ends the discussion (figuratively)

‘Yaramuna’ shows up several times in these translated Bible stories. Today’s example is when Pilate writes ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ on a sign on the cross. When the Jewish leaders ask him to rewrite it, Pilate ‘yaramunas’ them by saying, “What I have written, I have written.” In today’s parlance, if you heard someone being ‘yaramuned’, you would make a hand gesture (flicking the hand sideways at the wrist at head-level) and say, “Snap! DE-nied!”

You have to admit that the Shiyeyi language totally rocks.

There have also been some amazing birds outside my window all afternoon. Every time I have looked up upon seeing movement out there out of the corner of my eye, I have seen a totally different bird from what was out there a minute before. I told Rob and he got the camera for me. Therefore, I haven’t seen a bird out there since he brought me the camera. [sigh] Ah well. If I were taking crazy bird pictures, I wouldn’t be getting much work done, I suppose.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Eating money

There are some fabulous turns of phrase in Shiyeyi that just tickle me when I see them being used for biblical stories:

From ‘The Prodigal Son’:
- Kopaa ka ldi maropa ake koongo, shi idze ngaho. (There, he ate all his money, with only happiness.)

- Ta kati dzera zilduwa za wangiri umoyo. (His heart needed pig’s food.) I like the way this reflects the Greek word used for how he felt about the pig food, usually translated throughout the New Testament as ‘lusted’. In the NASB (like the NRSV), it says ‘And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating’. Loses a bit of punch there, does it not? Other English translations include ‘longed’ (NIV,NET), ‘wished’ (Good News), and ‘would fain have’ (KJV). The King James is my favorite translation of this word here as, for me, it at least conjures up swooning maidens and stampeding knights. I’d use a modern word, I think: feen. ‘He was feening to get hooked up with the carob pods that the pigs were eating.’ Feening, in case this is a new word to you (as it was to me when I first heard it in 1997), is the kind of longing that comes from dependency, such as accompanies a cocaine addiction. Coke addicts feen for coke.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Larger than life

I literally don’t have enough working hours in the day to figure out this language before starting to exegete Mark in a couple of weeks. Today’s task is to take a stab at various uniquenesses of Shiyeyi syntax, find out what are orthography deviations and what are genuine new words. That’s a complication that I underestimated in my exegetical plan: spelling corrections. The stories were done pre-orthography finalization. The thing is, a ‘word’ like akyanii may not just be a combination of akya and nii. It may be a whole new thing. Like short cut and shortcut or bad mitten and badminton (thanks, Rich and Abson). That’s what I need to determine for each word that I don’t understand… which is 90% of the words. I really am jumping in midstream here. Ah well. All I can do is what I can do before my time runs out. And, while the term indicated by time runs out is still very much in flux, I can only hope that the Wayeyi will not be horribly disappointed at my lack of speed in task accomplishment.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cool and uplifting stories to come

Rob properly noted that the snake incident unfairly overshadowed what should have been a momentously delightful week in my life. I began, after waiting for this time since 1997 (more than 11 years!), the work of scripture translation. And it was exciting stuff! I had great stories for Rob each day; new gems of addition to the church’s expression of God’s Word, fixing of transcription errors that had changed the meaning of words so dramatically as to damage the biblical integrity of the stories. Basically, I was finding my work to be of value and, in the cases of error correction, invaluable. It was immensely gratifying, to say the least. And I don’t mean to say ‘was’… it is gratifying stuff. I’m back it, now that my brain is fully focused and functional again. I started back at it Sunday afternoon. This week, I’ll not only be entering the word glosses and back translations as Sarah gives them to me but I’ll be making a listing of the scripture references for each story. That way, people who are trying to reclaim their Shiyeyi language and are using the Bible story book as a literacy tool can consult the other-language scriptures (e.g. Setswana, English) and come to an understanding of more obscure but rich Shiyeyi meanings by scriptural research. Hey, whatever gets people reading Bibles, eh?

So, snakes behind (or, geographically, beneath) me, the work is back to being gratifying. Cool and uplifting stories are to come.

What Would Hakudze Do?

Much of the translation that we’re working on for the Bible stories can be checked against the scripture translation done by Mr. Hakudze, a mother-tongue Shiyeyi speaker living in Seronga. Wanting the stories to be consistent with scripture portions when they do become published, I have to check against the translation decisions that he’s made on things like proper names. I’m thinking of having a WWHD bracelet made.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Handling snakes

I am mildly hesitant to write about yesterday’s events as they are not for the faint at heart, at least not for those who get faint of heart at the thought of me living in the wilds of Africa. However, it is the most exciting (and by exciting I mean terrifying) thing that has ever happened to me and, as such, really should be written about.

I have had the strangest feeling that something was above my head since I started working in the office near the house, since Monday. I knew that they threw mothballs up in the ceiling for rats and I had seen both birds and squirrels outside the window so I assumed that that was was I was hearing. I would occasionally go upstairs to see what was on the patio (which is the roof for the office). Sometimes there were birds. I didn’t think much more of it.

Yesterday, after Sarah had gone for the day, I had been working alone in the office for about an hour and a half. I was working at my computer, quietly and with very little movement. I was so quiet, in fact, that I could hear movement in the ceiling above my head. It was a sliding sound, as if (and this is actually what I imagined to be happening) a rat was dragging a smooth treasure across the upper side of the ceiling. I chose to ignore it and keep working. I tentatively considered getting Rob to come down and throw a few mothballs up there, just in case it was rats. I decided not to bother, a decision I am now glad of.

Around 4 PM, I heard the sliding sound again but, this time, almost directly behind my head but near the ceiling. I turned in my chair and looked at the top bookshelf. I saw, behind an open printer paper box, what looked at that brief glance to be the tail of a squirrel. I turned back around in my chair and realized that it looked far too smooth to be a squirrel tail, even though it was about the right size. I got out of my chair, turning to face the wall as I did and backing up slightly to get a better look. Suddenly, on the top shelf, I could clearly see a cobra, with its head fanned making the noise that I had been hearing all along, which I now knew to be a hiss. As soon as it registered with me what I was seeing, I turned and sprinted out of the office, up the stairs, out of the building, across the patio and into the house, closing the door behind me.

This is what it looked like, only looking at me head-on. [image from ScienceNews online, full article here]

Once safely in the house, I began calling out to Rob, saying, “There’s a cobra in the office. What do I do?” He thought that I was joking at first but realized when he saw how freaked out I was how serious I was about the whole thing. He held me for a bit until my heart rate lowered, the shaking stopped and my breathing returned to normal. Then, I called Carl, the LBT supervisor in Francistown. He advised us not to go back into the office until we had engaged someone who was an expert in cobra removal had come to deal with it. He asked about the size. I said that its head, when fanned, was as wide as my hand. He said it was a big one.

I wasn’t taking any chances so I called the landlord. He said that he would send some people up to take care of it. Sure enough, 2 young men, one of them being the guy who collects the trash, came with long poles to take care of it. The whole thing semed inadequate and wrong but, frankly, I didn’t know what else to do and so we let them into the office to try and find it. They poked arund on the shelf where I had seen it and lifted down all the boxes on that shelf to see I they could find it but found nothing. I couldn’t even stay in the building, I was so freaked out. After about 20 minutes (time is a bit fuzzy, not sure how long they were actually there), they came to the house, handed me my cellphone (which I had left on the desk) and said that they couldn’t find it. I asked if they had checked everywhere, knowing that they couldn’t possibly have in that limited period of time. They said that they couldn’t check everywhere but that they had done their best.

Well. Now I was really at a loss. I thanked them for their help and set about seeing what else to do. At about that time, Rob returned from the bus station at Gabane where he had been picking up some ELCB pastors who were coming to see his studio setup and discuss future project possibilities. When we explained what was going on, William said that Woodpecker Seminary (ironically where Rob had been teaching at a conference last weekend and where we had slept somewhat peacefully for 2 nights) had a problem with pythons and that they had a guy at Mokolodi Game Reserve who would come to take them away. Finally, a light at the end of the snaky tunnel! I thanked William for the info and immediately called Mokolodi, where I got the number for Paul, the snake handler there.

Paul said that he would come right away. This place is tricky to find so I walked out to the highway (about a 7 minute walk) to take them up the hill to the house when they got that far. I find that I’m the best (most unique to the region) landmark for visitors: “Just take the road to Kanye and stay on it until you see a white lady. You can’t miss it.” I was glad to walk away from the office and house and get to a nice road, where you can see everything around you. It was about 5 PM at this point and the sunset was lovely. Shortly, he arrived with Sue, his fellow snake handler. We went to the property and he showed me his snake book. I identified the snake I had seen; it was a spitting cobra and, from the fanned head size, an adult one. Not that that makes a difference. Carl said that a baby cobra can kill you as quick as an adult one. Because it was a spitter, Paul got out protective eyewear and sheets to cover their arms, along with their snake-handling poles (with pincher things on the ends).

We entered the office. It was reassuring to see how they approached the room with confident caution. That is to say they weren’t spazzing out but they were looking before they poked or stepped, that sort of thing. They talked to me the whole time about what they were doing and what we were actually up against. I learned a lot about spitting cobras while they searched. Cobras don’t just attack people. You really have to startle them or threaten them in some way. So, while it was smart for me to run since I had no idea what I was dealing with, I could have just backed away to the other side of the room and kept an eye on it to see where it would go. Then, I could call Paul while still watching it and he would come with Sue to retrieve it. As it is the spitting variety, it is likely to spit before rearing up and biting. It can spit without rearing up and can do so through very narrow areas, like the crack beneath a desk or between book stacks. They generally hiss, spit and strike, though they can skip one of the steps in that process. Thankfully (and I am immensely thankful to God, I assure you), it didn’t get past hissing with me before I ran. The spit is a neurotoxin. It is deadly only if it gets in your eyes or on broken skin (cut, scratched rash, popped zit, etc.) as it has to get past the skin barrier somehow. I asked what happens if one gets bitten and Paul wouldn’t say directly the effect but just for one to get to a hospital immediately. I think he was trying to avoid freaking me out any more than I already was. It was not likely that it would leave the top bookshelf unless it had a really good reason to do so. For example, those 2 young guys poking blindly around with sticks would be a good reason. They should not do that; Paul should have been called right away (I have given both the landlord and the guy who gets the trash Paul’s number, by the way, for future reference). It is more likely that it would go out the way it came in, which is one of the many gaps between the ceiling and the roof around the edge of the ceiling above the bookshelf. Still, one can’t be too careful. They can stay perfectly still for a week or more before having to move about. It could have been in the ceiling all along and we would not have known unless I had seen it.

After much searching, both floors, they couldn’t find it so Paul said it was either back in the ceiling or had gone back outdoors. As if to confirm that, there was a loud bump in the ceiling above our heads. I thought maybe one of my stacks of books had fallen onto the patio from the picnic table (while they searched for snakes, I was vacating my work materials from the office) but we discovered, upon going upstairs to check, that this was not the case. The noise had to have come from inside the ceiling. Ergo, the snake remains. And, shy of tearing out the ceiling and forcing it to come down and be handled, there was nothing Paul or Sue could do to get it out of there.

So, we all left the office and locked it up. I’m not sure what we’re going to do. I have no desire to go back to that desk and sit with my back to that wall. I’m not even sure how long it will be before I can go back in there, just to get some of our other things from the downstairs part of the office. I’m thinking we need to keep that a used space so that nothing wild moves in there with any degree of permanency over the next 6 months. On the other hand, who wants to work in an office with a spitting cobra? It was about 4 feet from my face. I’m still kind of freaked out when I think about it. It kind of hit me for real last night, when I was procesing with Rob and I just started crying. Then, I was exhausted. I slept hard last night at first but then woke up, wondering what I was feeling and hearing around me in the bedroom. I’m pleasantly surprised that I didn’t dream about it.

The only way I can describe the impact of seeing that snake all flared out and hissing at me is that I’ve never felt so close to my own death. That’s saying something, given that I’ve been in the presence of people-directed gunfire on several occasions, a major earthquake and in a number of car accidents. But, in each of those circumstances, there were a number of ways it could have played out. In a car accident, you could beat up your car, break a bone, damage your spine or bleed a lot. Dying is just one of the many things that can happen but it is not the most likely. With an adult spitting cobra rearing up and fanning at you, there are very few possible outcomes. In fact, I think that there are 3: it doesn’t get (spit at or bite) you, it gets you but you make it to the hospital in time (and I really should figure out what “in time” means in such a situation) or it gets you and you die. Now, Rob says I should focus on being thankful that God gave me what was behind “door number one”. And I am thankful, in some part of me, I’m sure. But I am, to be truthful, more feeling edgy, physically. I’m feeling physical fear things that I’m having difficulty controlling and I feel like it’s probably healthier just to let my body process, however it needs to do that. I’m talking about my feelings and the event, I’m writing about it and I’m resting when I need to. I just get choked up sometimes. And, even as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that I shouldn’t feel too bad about that. I mean, it’s not like I’m having difficulty controlling my emotions about it weeks later – it did just happen less than 24 hours ago. It’s just that it’s hard to foresee a future where I’m not constantly checking under the table or remembering that I had had a deadly snake sitting above and behind my head (possibly for days) that I just didn’t see until it was in striking position.

Now, Rob thinks that this may be a devilish attempt to ruin that beautiful office for me. Sarah and I had a perfect working space, with 2 desks across from each other and lovely view of the valley and the mountain in the distance. Now, I’m at the kitchen table with my computer and she’s in the computer room with her papers to gloss. At this stage in the project, it’s totally workable but in a few weeks will be less so. Will we be able to return to our workspace by then? Should we even attempt to do so? Paul pointed out that the office ceiling is a perfect home for vermin, given that it is a continuation of ground level. Yes, God spared me from the danger inherent in that workspace yesterday. But perhaps God allowed me to see the snake so that I would realize the inherent danger and not be so stupid as to go back and work there on a daily basis, back to the wall. Let’s just say that I have a lot to think about but I’m not rushing into any decisions at this stage.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Successfully moved

Just so you know, we are now in Gabane. We came down from Francistown last Wednesday, went to a conference over the weekend and had meetings Monday morning. Tuesday, we did the big grocery run and picked up some household things. Wednesday (yesterday), the people we're housesitting for left for their 6 month trip and we went about settling in in earnest. We did about half the unpacking. Also, I did laundry. They have an unusual washing machine and it actually took me 2 straight hours of constant effort to get the wash done. All spinning and rinsing is done by hand with this older model. I watched Ruth do it so I could learn how before they left but she was much faster at it than I am. Practice, I suppose. I'll get faster, I hope. Since I'll be working each weekday, I'll have to get up pretty early in the morning to get the wash out before I have to go to the office.

Rob is speaking at a conference this coming weekend, at the Woodpecker Seminary south of Gaborone. He's teaching on basics of Scriptural songwriting in worship, audio technician skills and ensemble blending. I'm going too, I think, primarily to take photos.

I start work with Sarah on the Shiyeyi texts on Monday. I'm currently at the Mugg & Bean, downloading an update on a piece of Windows software so I can be all set with the database and latest version of FieldWorks before work starts.

There are monkeys here, all around the house. I saw 3 while I was hanging the wash. I just turned around and there they were. They're pretty skittish and they bolted quickly when they saw me looking at them. I haven't gotten a picture of them yet but I figure there's plenty of time for that.

It was quite cold this morning when we awoke. I had to put socks on to walk on the cold stone floor. Rob did warn me that it would get brisk here. Thankfully, I brought sweaters.

And internet is becoming a problem. We're discovering that the only time when there's any speed here at M&B is early morning. And our mail isn't downloading at all, into our mail program. We're having to do it all web-based. So, if it takes a while for us to update the blog and there are fewer pictures, you know what the problem is.

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