Friday, June 27, 2008

Praying at the small house

[photo from the Zsohars blog]

What a difference a letter can make! The manuscript that Sarah and I are working with was typed from the original handwritten copy by someone who wasn’t a Shiyeyi speaker, mother tongue or otherwise. Therefore, we occasionally get some typos that are sometimes lexically significant. For example, if someone wrote you an email that contained the sentence I don’t know about tht, I’ll have to give it some more thought. you’d know that the word typed as tht was actually supposed to be the word that, a fairly common typo. However, if someone emailed you Sorry I was late to the meeting yesterday – It was looking for my missing love. you might not immediately guess that the person writing actually meant glove, since love actually makes sense, at least grammatically if not logically.

We had a similar experience yesterday while going over the manuscript for Mark 11:17. In Sarah’s back translation, Jesus was pointing out to the people in the Temple (which he was busily clearing out) that it was written that, “The small house will be called a house of prayer – but you have made it a hideout for criminals.” I kind of laughed when I first read the back translation and knew enough Shiyeyi to see that it was a typo: indjuwoana means “small house”, indjuwo anga means “my house”.

Now, without some cultural context from Botswana, one might think that this typo would be one that would be caught as a typo by someone within the culture. However, “small house” is actually a fully fledged cultural concept among the Batswana. There was recently a billboard campaign around Gaborone that said something like “People say that small houses strengthen relationships – but small houses actually increase your risk for HIV.” What is a “small house”? Well, a Motswana man might marry a woman and have children with her. After some time, he might take on another woman in a sexual relationship, sort of a concubine. He would build her a house, for her and any resulting children that might come from their relationship. This house would typically be not too far from his main residence with his actual wife. It would, however, necessarily be smaller than the house of the legal wife, so as to indicate her preferred status to the concubine. Hence the euphemistic term “small house”. At least, that's my understanding of the small house practice.

More on small houses:
* in Zimbabwe
* as reported in BOPA
* in Wikipedia
* brief mention with regard to HIV

So, Jesus might have been taken to be saying (prior to our edits, of course) that the small house was intended to be the place of prayer but that the Jews were wrongly criminalizing the small house practice. Ah, the importance of a well-placed letter G. Take that, Sesame Street!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Thieving boys and jilted wives

We were checking the translation of the young rich man who came to Jesus and asked what he could do to inherit eternal life. Mr. Hakudze had used the word yanga to describe how the young man was feeling when Jesus told him what he had to do (see Mark 10). Sarah knew that ku yanga means 'to tie' but she wasn't sure what it could mean with reference to someone's feelings. So, she called Mr. Kauthemwa, one of the chiefs in Sepopa, whom we often call for deeper Shiyeyi meanings. Sarah was talking to him and then she started laughing, hung up the phone. I asked her what was going on and she said that he had been explaining yanga to her and, suddenly, he was shouting at some small boys. Then, she could hear him running, the phone still on, as if he was running and holding the cellphone in his fist. Then, nothing.

She called back later to see what had been going on. Apparently, he was answering her question on yanga while working in his garden. His garden has tomatoes, watermelon, spinach, lots of things. He was crouched down, working, while he talked to us and so he couldn't easily be seen in the garden. He was in the middle of explaining that “yanga is like when you are married and your husband leaves you and goes with another woman. To feel that feeling, that is ku yanga. Another example is... Hey! You! Small boys! What are you doing?!” Suddenly, he had seen some small boys at the other end of his garden. They had climbed over his wall and, not seeing him there crouched among the plants, had begun to eat his tomatoes and take his watermelons. When he noticed them and began to shout, they ran to the wall and climbed over to run away. He began to chase them, which is what Sarah heard.

Ah, the comic realities of today's translation work - a far cry from the image I took away from translation training. Kind of wild to imagine having cellphone consultants, sharing their linguistic treasure while they govern in the kgotla and weed among the watermelons.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another year older

What an interesting birthday. Had a great time consistently translating the Greek word sodzo as yaka in Shiyeyi, something I've wanted to do ever since finding out that sodzo is translated in many different ways in the whopping majority of English Bibles. The word yaka means 'help someone who wouldn't be able to do/make it without your help' and does have a sense of 'life-saving' to it. Jesus is already referred to in Wayeyi churches as Muyaki, meaning 'Saviour'. Love it. Running with it. Went into town for dinner at Spur. Had hot wings and mini beef kebabs. The waitrons sang me a birthday chant and gave me soft serve with a sparkler on it. I turned 34 shades of red. A good time was had by all. Afterwards, we went for our first choir practice at Maitisong, over at Maruapula School. Sophie, whom we know from Botswana Music Camp last December, invited us to come. They need more voices for a performance of Messiah this October. They especially need bass (i.e. Rob) but can handle more alto (i.e. me). Challenging but also fun. We hope to be able to keep up with it. Now, I'm drinking a new tea blend, 'Quiet Night' by Lipton. Has lime leaves, lavender, orange leaves, chamomile, vanilla and caramel and vanilla flavors in it. Yum. We'll go to bed pretty soon so I'll be fresh for tomorrow. We're heavy into Mark 6 now.

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