Saturday, November 18, 2006

Belum, Tidok bericara bahasa Indonesia

Belum, tidok bericara bahasa Indonesia (No, I don’t yet speak Indonesian)

Jared, Rob and I have been taking language classes for the last few weeks. While I do feel like I am improving a bit, I need to accelerate the process. The worst part of the whole enlightenment of finding out what Indonesian words really mean is realizing how ‘Tarzan and Jane’ I’ve been speaking.

The second worst part is realizing that I’m getting old and it is starting to affect me. Case in point; I made flash cards for us in order to study. Rob and I were ‘flashing’ each other so to speak when Jared walked in the room. We made him join in on the game. The first round he didn’t know a single word. The SECOND round, he knew every one by rote. So unfair. Rob and I must have been 15 minutes into flashing each other 20 different words and we still got at least two or three wrong every time.

It would also take several seconds to figure out what the word meant. I have a terrible memory. Where Rob can remember his phone number from when he was seven years old, I’ve already forgotten my work extension back in the home office.

I also have to make weird, murky connections in order to remember any words. For example, in order to remember the word ‘to cook’ – ‘memasok’, I need to think of Michael Jackson, then I need to think of the song that has the refrain ‘mama-say-mama-so-mama-ku-sa’ stuff in it, then I remember the Indonesian word sounds kind of like that, then I mouth the Michael Jackson song until I remember the right word is memasok, not memakusa. By the time I say it, the person I’m trying to converse with has usually moved on to someone else who doesn’t act like they have some sort of mental problem.

Up there in my worst things about learning a foreign language top ten list is having several half learned languages (sometimes I think English is part of that pack) bouncing around in my brain; Arabic, French and now Indonesian. This has gotten me into trouble recently.

For some reason, as I was looking at a container of yummy UHT milk (ha!) I saw the word ‘bebec’ and assumed that word was for milk. In my mind it was the closest sounding word to the other ‘milk’ words I know, like ‘leche’, since it has that hard ‘k’ sound in it. Never did I think it was actually ‘susu’, which to me sounds like ‘sugar’.

We run out of milk one morning. I don’t have access to a car and I don’t feel like flagging down a bechek (sidecar taxi) to go to the closest semblance of a grocery store. Instead, I hoof it to the nearest little ‘toko’ (store) which in my neighborhood usually is made out of plywood and serrated tin roof. There is usually a light bulb in the shack and a dirt floor. There is nothing but the essentials; bags (yes bags!) of oil, cleaning liquids and water; bags closed with rubber bands (yes, bags with rubber bands!) of flour and sugar, two full isles of cookies and sugar crackers and big plastic jars of candies. I looked around for milk. No milk. So, I asked the store owner, “Anda mapunya bebec?” I think I’m asking for milk. He says no. I insist that he perhaps he does have ‘bebec’ and he has forgotten. He consults with a young guy, probably his son who brings me some margarine. “Tidok,” I explain. (“no”). “Saya mau bebec.” Again I think I’m asking for milk. I try and make it clearer. “Anda tahu, bebec, bebec chocolat,..” I think I’m telling him “You know, milk, chocolate milk,..” Finally I locate a little carton (in the shape of a bag!) of milk in his fridge and shake it in front of him. “Bebec!” He just laughs and takes my money.

It isn’t until my next language lesson that I find out I was actually asking him for a duck. You know, a duck, a chocolate duck,...I find this out in the middle of the lesson when I interrupt what our great teacher Benny is trying to teach us (“Oh yeah! And what is the word for,...”) I have Benny laughing so hard he is crying. He can not believe he is trying to teach bahasa Indonesia to some American woman who goes to a store and asks about purchasing chocolate ducks.

Benny takes a deep breath to gain control. He closes his book, clasps his hands and looks at me. “Now, Ibu Karen, what other words do you need to know?”

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