Behavior change is hard, guys. I knew from the start that I'd be "not from around here" in my village, but I was hoping I'd be a respected foreign consultant whose accent adorably gets in the way sometimes (like a sexy doctor on ER.) Instead, I'm finding that I'm Fez from That 70s Show: nice, but weird. Really weird. You'd never take advice from him.
Pulaar is nothing like English. It's full of symbolic language, idioms, and double meanings, and the words are in a shuffled order. When my brain thinks in English, the Pulaar sentences come out twisted, like a crumpled banner, and it's my listener's hard work to straighten my crooked words to understand the message. Of course, everything that I hear is also twisted, so I need to straighten the Pulaar words I hear into something that makes sense to my English brain before I can understand.
I don't want to sound negative - I'm not. I'm having a lot of fun with this! It's the ultimate brain teaser. If I have a patient listener, I can have whatever conversations I please, and thankfully this is a small enough town that a lot of people have nothing better to do than to talk to me. I know it will get even easier my second year here, and that's exciting and inspiring.
However entertaining Pulaar Puzzling may be, it does stand in the way of my behavior change goals. After all, I did come here to work. Unfortunately, I'm not yet too convincing when I try to have complex conversations analyzing the pros and cons of new vs. traditional practices. Usually, my friends in village just shake their heads at my weird, foreign ways and say "Minen, doo, ndeer Fuladu..." (we, here, in the Fuladu [Pulaar-speaking region]), then explain what they do, slowly and clearly, as though they were talking to a child. After all, in their eyes, they're the normal ones. I'm the odd duck.
I started keeping a list in my notebook of all the times I've heard, "Minen, doo, ndeer Fuladu...." used to explain a completely perplexing behavior. Each time, my language was sufficient to mutually understand each other, but we both left shaking our heads in bewilderment.
We, here, in the Fuladu...
We think that morning coffee purges witches.
"Kadiatou, buy me coffee."
"Haha, my uncle! I am without 5 CFA this morning. I am not drinking coffee today."
"You will drink coffee at home?" (think - a "yes" means that this random dude might invite himself over, and I don't want to deal with that. A "no" means a possible lecture. Decide to go with my old standby, the noncommittal shrug.)
"In the night, vampires and witches can come. They enter your body. In the night, it is cold. You must drink hot in the morning."
"Ah, because witches aren't used to hot? They can't hot?" (woowde and waawde, "to be used to" and "to be able to", sound similar and people sometimes can't hear the difference through my accent, so I decided to say both just to cover my bases.)
"In the old place, (said to refer to wherever us Toubacos are from, because no one can remember if we're from France or America or Italy or Spain, and it's all the same anyway), we drink coffee because we like coffee."
"Well, we here know that coffee is important. We, here, in the Fuladu, we think coffee is medicine."
We think honey cures diabetes.
"Kadiatou, you will drink?"
"What is?" (In Pulaar, you just say hoko woni, "what is," instead of "what is that." I don't know why we say the "that" in English. It's an unnecessary syllable. If it's not obvious what "this" or "that" is through context, the word "this" or "that" doesn't provide any clues as to what you might mean.)
"Honey. Woods honey."
"Oh! I will drink a little."
"Drink it all!" (she in no way expected me to drink the entire liter cup, that's just the polite thing to say.)
"If I drink it all, I will have gotten diabetes." (I was trying to use the subjunctive, which is hard grammatically. I wanted to say "if I were to drink all of that, I would get diabetes" but I spoke weird nonsense instead. She looked confused for a second, then lit up, thinking she understood.)
"Yes! If you have diabetes, this cures you."
"Yes! This is medicine for diabetes. If diabetes catches you (In the Fuladu, diseases catch YOU instead of the other way around), this is medicine."
"...No. When diabetes catches you, your body can't sugar. Honey is sugar. Drinking sugar when your body can't sugar is bad."
"This is not sugar. This is medicine."
"Honey has vitamins a little, but it is not medicine for nothing. (double negatives are grammatically correct here). It is not good for diabetes. It is sugar really really."
"Well, we? Here? In the Fuladu? We think this is medicine for diabetes."
We think powdered milk is medicine.
"Adama! I heard you are sick."
"I'm a little better." (Even if you're on death's door, you always insist that you're a little better.)
"What got you?"
"You got hospital medicine?" (there are other ways to ask questions, but the easiest is just to pronounce a statement like it's a question, so that's what I always do.)
"No, I drank Vitalait."
"Vitalait? The powdered milk from the boutique?"
"Yes. It is medicine."
"Vitalait is not medicine. Amadou Dem (the boutique owner) is not a doctor."
"It has vitamins. It is medicine. We here in the Fuladu think it is medicine."
We plant hot peppers in the rainy season.
"Lumbi, you are going to the field?"
"My garden, there." (She said a short, clipped "to" instead of a longer "tooooon," meaning the garden was not far away.)
"Ah. You are planting?"
"What you are planting."
"Remember last year you planted hot peppers?"
"Yes, last year I planted hot peppers."
"Remember when you sold your harvest, you got money very small. Because everyone, all the people, sold peppers at the same time."
"Yes! I didn't get money."
"This year, you can grow tomatoes or eggplant."
"I grow hot peppers in the rainy season."
"But everyone grows hot peppers. No one grows tomatoes. If I woman grows tomatoes, she can get money. Because everyone grows hot peppers."
"Yes. We, here in the Fuladu, we grow hot peppers in rainy season. Hot. Peppers." (Similarly, everyone sells mangoes during hot season, and peanuts during dry season. Everything is bought and sold at the same time as all the neighbors are buying and selling the same thing. Sellers are constantly complaining about the low prices their wares are getting. Buyers are complaining about the high prices they have to pay.)
We don't eat our chicken's eggs.
"Tidiane, do you eat eggs?"
"Ha! I'm not a patron, I don't have money for eggs!"
"You have money. And you have chickens."
"Yes! Lots of chickens!" *low whistle*
"If a chicken does an egg, (who knows the verb for "to lay"?), you take the egg, you eat it?"
"No. If you sell one egg, it is 100 CFA, but if you sell a chicken, you get 2000 CFA"
"But it helps your body to eat eggs, and Pulaars say 'Health is the Largest Treasure.'" (memorizing a bunch of proverbs is one of the most worthwhile things I've done here.)
"You can Pulaar! But we don't have money."
"Chickens here are many, but their food is not many. It is not possible, all eggs are chickens. Many die."
"Yes, many die."
"If you have 10 eggs, you can eat nine eggs. One egg will be chicken. Food is enough for one only."
"We, here, in the Fuladu, we don't eat our eggs. We sell our chickens."
We think that mirrors attract lightning.
Whenever dark clouds roll in, someone yells at me to remember to put a sheet over my water filter before the storms come or my hut will get struck by lightning and burn down.
We think that cat fur causes tuberculosis.
If a cat hair gets caught in your throat, you will cough and cough until you die. This is the leading hypothesis for what killed my dog while I was on vacation. A close runner-up is that he ate a magpie.