Where are you going?

During training we were encouraged to practice our language skills in the community after class.

We had just arrived on our home island, Yap where our permanent assignments would be after spending the first part of training on the capitol island, Pohnpei where the Peace Corps country office is. Our training on Yap was held in town (Colonia) where most government office buildings, stores, etc. are. We lived with our host families in villages around the 37-sq mile island. There are school buses that run from villages to town and back again each day transporting workers.

After training one evening, five of us volunteers were going together to one of the resorts in a village in the municipality of Maap to visit. We had to figure out which bus to take. They are not marked as everyone just inherently knows which bus to take based on the driver and the unique markings on the bus. I decided to practice my new language skills. "Ku mub u uw?", I asked the bus driver. He looked very confused. I thought it might have been my mispronunciation of something so I asked a slightly different question, "Ku mub uw Maap?" "Eh, Maap" he said. ("Yes, Maap"). Good, this was the right bus. I looked at my fellow volunteer standing next to me with a look of horror on her face. "You just asked him where he comes from", she informed me. Oh. "Where are you going?" and "Where do you come from?" are two common phrases that, of course, they teach together in the same lesson and, of course, I managed to mix up. It turns out our bus driver was from Maap, and he was also driving the bus to Maap. Very conveniant! Everone already on the bus heard and probably had a very good laugh at my expense (definitely wouldn't be the first or last time).

After that I never forgot "Nga man ngan?" ("Where are you going?"). Although, I never really needed this for practical matters like figuring out the bus because I learned very quickly based on observing which bus my friends from the village were choosing. Usually these phrases are used for getting to know someone better. "Where do you come from?" is usually meant to initiate the telling of a personal story about where you come from. Not something to casually ask a bus driver! "Where are you going?" is usually meant to keep tabs on you on the small island. Also not something to ask the bus driver because _of course_ the bus is going to Maap, after all it is the Maap bus and everyone on it is from Maap! These subtle nuances of language gradually became easier for me as I came to understand more about both the spoken and unspoken aspects of learning a new language and living in a small island culture.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.