I know only enough Dinka to please elders and others by greeting them in their language. I get the greeting words mixed up, so I’m doing my homework now before bed, reminding myself of the words I’ve learned.
In the morning, over tea, I sat with Leek Sam, ASAH’s education director to correct my spelling and confirm the meanings. The following list is pretty much the full extent of my knowledge of Dinka. I loved languages when I was young and expected to learn several. I minored in French. When we adopted our Russian daughters, I learned enough Russian that I could speak and read and write basic things, though once my daughters learned English, my Russian languished and has now rusted through. I would put more effort into Dinka, but I feel like my brain is so full and so busy all the time, there is no space for even one more word.
Because I neglected to review these few vocabulary words before leaving the US, I have been saying “chirwon” no matter the time of day, though as some small girls greeted me at 4:30 pm with “chirwon,” so perhaps it isn’t a hard and fast rule. I’ve been repeating a version of “kudwal” that included what sounded to me like “areet,” without having any idea what it meant except that it was a greeting. I’m okay with “lowedi” and I tend to respond “achine kerach” in response to all greetings, though it really belongs with “lowedi” or “kudwal.”
I’ll never forget that water here is called “pieu” because last year I was trying to learn the Dinka word for water. Certain that some of our ASAH girls knew this word, I asked them – what is “water” in Dinka? Blank looks. After several repetitions – getting louder each time, a common mistake people make when speaking to someone who doesn’t understand the language – as though louder will somehow break through the barrier. Finally a got a glass and put water in it. “Water,” I said. They laughed and said “Water” in their lovely British accents and then mimicked my midwestern “wadder.”
I had a repetition of this experience at the Freedom Hotel in Bor, South Sudan last week, asking the Ugandan waitress for a bottle of water. She sauntered over to the other Ugandan waitress, and I heard her say “wadder, wadder, wadder.” When she came to the table, I told her the story of our girls and how funny they found my pronunciation. She said, “Wadder. It sounds so beautiful.”
At dinner, she asked if she could visit with me in the garden when she got off work at 10. I said that would be too late for me, but I could give her a little time if she came to my room earlier. I expected a request of some sort, and sure enough, she was hoping I might have a job for her, though she didn’t realize our program was in a village. “I make little money here, and I have responsibilities in Uganda,” she said. Jobs are scarce in neighboring Uganda and Kenya and many people come to South Sudan looking for work.
I explained that we didn’t have any positions, but that we were located in a village that was quite remote. At the moment, I don’t think there are any Ugandans in Duk Payuel. There are a number of Kenyans, but only one Kenyan woman, a nurse at the JDF Clinic. “Thank you for your kindness,” she said.
DINKA Vocabulary 101
1st person says – Chirwon – good morning
Reply – En chirwon – morning to you
Anytime of day
1st person says – Kudual – hello
Reply – Kudual aret – Everything is beautiful
1st person – Chachol – Good evening to one person
Reply – Woa chachol
1st person – Achakachol – Good evening to more than one person
Reply – Woa chachol
Lowedi – How are things?
Achine kerach – Nothing’s bad
Apurareid – Good indeed
Thank You – Yincha lech
Jotrot – Stand up (for one person)
Jatkerot – Stand up (for a group)
Buku channa – When do we eat?
Ambo – I’ll be right back
Wobo – We’ll be right back
Ba, OR Ba, ba, ba – come
Baten – Come here
Quin – Food
Pieu – water
Alawa – sweets
That’s all I know!
Deb Dawson, January 23, 2013