Everyone knows to learn pronouns, directions, titles and numbers in a new language! But my most desired to know phrases in Tetun, have been a little different to that!
Here’s my top ten phrases i wish i knew in Tetun!
“Carpet burn” – a few weeks ago Sam rubbed his nose on a mattress, giving himself a carpet burn type graze along his nose. Everywhere we went people asked what was wrong with his nose. I’m not sure carpet burn is even a familiar concept in this country where carpet is rare. Often i just said he fell down. It was simpler.
“Don’t let the cat in the house, it has been weeing on the furniture.” We are house sitting for another MAF couple and are babysitting their cat while they are gone. The cat didn’t cope with the change of ownership too well and so decided to take it’s frustrations out on us by urinating on the couches. After this, the cat became an outdoor animal, but i needed to let Nina, the lady who helps us in the house know to keep the doors shut so the cat wouldn’t sneak in! Yes i got very funny looks as i slowly looked up this phrase word by word in the dictionary to explain it to her!
“That powerpoint isn’t working” Nina was concerned that our iron had died. After various experiments we discovered it was the powerpoint that had stopped working and not the iron itself. We now iron in the dining room.
Recharge, credit, expired, internet – Really we need to know all the words for our phones and internet service. Our mobile phones get text messages about various deals several times each day. I barely understand any of them!
“Sam is shy” is a phrase i never expected to say! My son is an extrovert, who makes friends easily and will talk to anyone. But since we’ve been in Dili, the immersion into another culture, the attention he receives whenever we walk on the street and the frequent cheek pinching, has made Sam a little shy when meeting new people.
“I don’t speak Portuguese” was another surprise to my collection of phrases. It is assumed here that if you don’t speak Tetun that you can speak Portuguese, so i have had to explain that i don’t speak portuguese quite often. English is way down the preference of languages after tetun, portuguese and indonesian.
“Does this have sweet corn in it?” Corn and I (Kim) are not friends! We never meet under good circumstances and the effects of a surprise meeting are often painful and messy! So i have had to learn this phrase quickly as many rice dishes have added sweet corn.
“Why are you climbing on my roof with wires, cables and tools?” Last week i had a visit from three Timorese men, who came armed with back packs full of tools, a ladder and lots of cables. They greeted me and then proceeded to climb on the roof and start pulling out cables. I would’ve been worried if i hadn’t seen men in similar uniforms doing the same thing to the houses all down our street.
“No, you don’t need to put your life jacket on!” The need for this phrase came out of Jason’s day as he was getting ready to fly to Atauro Island. As pilots they have life jackets that they must wear when flying across to this island, because if an emergency happened they would be too busy flying the plane to find and put on a life jacket while handling a life threatening situation. But on this day after giving his safety brief about the location of the life jackets for passengers under the seats, and seeing Jason wearing his, this passenger started removing his from under the seat to put his on. It’s easy to understand the passenger’s logic isn’t it? If the pilot needs one, then I’m putting mine on too!
“Wow! That’s the crazy expensive price isn’t it?” As foreigners we pay more for items here than Timorese people and I’m okay with that most of the time! In Ethiopia, i knew the phrases to say, “Wow, that’s expensive!” in a joking manner which wouldn’t cause offence to the person you were speaking to. I haven’t learnt that phrase here yet and i don’t want to just form it from the dictionary, in case it comes across offensive or rude to the recipient. Today, Sam and i caught a taxi home from the shops, before we got in i began the negotiation of the price. His starting price was $5, he knew i wasn’t going to pay that when i laughed at him, and he laughed in return, as if to say, “It was worth a try!” and then we began more realistic negotiations.
How good does it feel when we open our mouth and speak to another person, and you are understood? It feels amazing! Growing up speaking English in Australia, i have had few situations where i was unable to understand what another person was trying to tell me. It was only as i started travelling the world that these opportunities for lack of comprehension, miscommunication and misunderstanding increased significantly.
So picture this, a Saturday night in a new culture, how am Jason and i sending our evening? At the movies? Yes there is a movie cinema here in Dili! But no, not at the movies! Out for dinner, enjoying the delights of someone else’s cooking? No! Socialising and making new friends? No!
On this Saturday night, Jason and I were sitting together, huddled around the table, one using a paper dictionary, the other an online dictionary, trying to decipher instructions and words to explain to us why our internet was currently not working. As we translated each word, one by one, we hoped we were closer to solving the internet mystery. But our hope was short lived. Translating individual words was possible, but we still had no idea about why our internet wasn’t working. The words didn’t make sense really, we were missing something.
I’ve had a few of these moments since our arrival in Timor, moments that overwhelm me with compassion for immigrants to Australia or the international students i taught at Oxley College. Living in a place with only a minimal ability to communicate is hard work, tiring and frustrating! But we are getting there. We need to rejoice in the victories, however small they may be, such as Jason doing his safety briefing in Tetun with passengers, making a joke and directing the taxi home from the supermarket.