I woke up this morning and had that first moment of the day when your mind is clear and serene… and you know how after that, you start processing your day and becoming aware of what’s going on… well, first thing I remembered was ‘oh my god. we’ve got language class today and we’re teaching five languages!’.
I managed to remain a little bit calm and old N came round early. She’s really sick at the moment but still pushing on. At 9:30 we were at the Batchelor building and old N was scrubbing out the toilets because they were too dirty. We both cleaned the men’s. There was frog poo everywhere. We opened up the tank-part and old N kicked 15 green tree frogs out of the home they’d made for themselves. Haha… she was flicking those frogs everywhere.
Soon, the language mob started to join us and we started preparing. The Nunggubuyu mob sorted out their lesson. The others were doing fine. Except for my poor old uncle E. He’s the only one who’s been working on Ngandi. And he’s old and his knowledge of the language isn’t great. It’s one of the most endangered languages here. So I worked with him to try and get the Ngandi class ready.
We found a few words in the dictionary and that was fine. But we got stuck on some of the questions and sentences. So like a trooper, he jumped at my suggestion to walk down the road to find someone to help. I followed him as we went to one really old lady who is barely mobile anymore but speaks Ngandi really well. She helped us out and we were fine after that. It doesn't sound like much, but I found it remarkable. My old uncle E must be in his 60s. He’s shy and doesn’t talk much and doesn’t do much – mostly because he’s old and he doesn’t really have much to do. He’s had an infected or sore foot for 4 months now too. But seeing him take on the role of being the sole teacher of Ngandi in the school program and doing it with such determination, well I was proud and impressed. I realised I had underestimated him.
So with everyone prepared, we broke up for lunch and were ready to go to school after lunch to run five, countem five, language classes. Actually 15 classes, because each language group runs three classes – one for each age group. I somehow gathered everyone together and then…
It went really really well. I still can’t believe it. Halfway through the session I stood up and looked around and there were kids sitting with parents and elders and they were all behaving, learning and having a good time. It went smoothly and everyone had fun and learned too. I’ve never seen anything like it!! I’m trying really hard not to get over excited because it might all fall apart next time, but I’m not going to think negatively either. My boss didn’t think what we did today was possible. Actually, I’m not sure that anyone did, including me… but we did it!
And my poor old uncle E. Well, I sat with him because he needed the most help. But with just a little help, he did a great job teaching all the kids a few Ngandi words. And playing games to help them learn.
So what did we do today? We taught kids words for ‘head, shoulders, knees’ and ‘foot’ in five languages. Three language groups also worked on the matching song. And we did some short questions like ‘what’s this?’ ‘this is …..’. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s so important that these languages have a place in the school because they’ve been put down, denigrated and have been on the out for about a century now. I know we’re barely even scratching the surface but at least we’ve started scratching.
As you can see, I’m feeling inspired today. And tomorrow, I’m going to Hodgson Downs – another community two hours – to try and start up the same thing there! I’ll tell you all about it soon.
PS. I’m so inspired at the moment I have to teach some of the language to anyone reading this too... here’s head, shoulder, knee and foot in Ngandi: gu-rlong, gu-merlepbeh , gu-mo and gu-dheng. And if you want to say ‘this is a foot’, it’s guniyung gu-dheng. And if you want to ask ‘what’s this?’, it’s anja anihyung?. Neat, huh?