by Mike Sweeney from the Winter 2003 The Storyboard
Try to imagine, for a minute, what it’s like to live in a small village, deep in a tropical jungle, untouched by modern technology. No TV. No Internet. No traffic. No clocks.
How do you think you would describe your experience? Think of some good adjectives to express your imaginings: Peaceful? Quiet? Serene? Tranquil? Heavenly?
Have you been suffering from similar delusions for a long time?
I am sitting in such a village right now. It’s evening. I’ve been working hard all day. I’m bushed. Someone on the other side of the village is yelling at someone else on this side of the village. I can’t tell if he’s yelling because he’s angry, or if he just needs to be heard; probably the latter. Several small children are screaming, in seeming competition with one another over whose burdens are more unbearable.
The 14-year-old next door has been playing the same tune on his ukulele for the past 3 hours. I repeat, 3 hours. He only knows 2 chords. The thing I find most exasperating about it is that I’m the genius who bought him the ukulele. Did I mention that he’s been at it for 3 hours?
This afternoon I was working in a village checking session. During these sessions, we pull in people that did not work on the translation, read them the translated passages, and ask them questions to see how well the text as translated can be understood. Here’s how some of it went (although translated for your benefit):
Me: “So to whom do you think Jesus was referring when he spoke of the “strong man” in this parable?”
Informant #1: “He was talking about…” (At this point I can’t make out what he is saying because some roosters outside of the office have gotten into a noisy altercation. One of the men says: “I’ll take care of that,” and heads out the door. Apparently he picks up a dirt clod and throws it, because we all hear a ‘WHAP!’ ‘BEGOCK!’ Silence. He comes back in and sits down.)
Me: “Thank you. So to whom was Jesus referring?”
Informant #1: “He was…” (At this point his words are again blotted out by the sound of a pig squealing loudly just under the window. One of the men says, “That must be my pig. I’ll take care of him.’ He walks out the door and picks up a 2X4 from under the house. We hear a loud “KRAK!” followed by “WHEEEEE!” and then the sound of a pig crashing through the bush. He walks back in and sits down.)
Me: “Thank you. The strong man?”
Informant #1, in exasperated tones: “He…” (At this point two of the village dogs begin barking madly at something. One of the men says, “Hold on a minute, I’ll take care of it,” and walks out the door. “WHACK!” “AI-AI-AI-AI-AI-AI-AI-AI!” He walks back in smiling and sits down.)
Me: “Thank you.” I turn to informant #1 with an expectant look on my face, but before he can open his mouth the room is filled with the sound of the woman next door shouting at her kids. One of the men says, “I’ll take care of it,” and starts to get up. Thinking back to what happened to the rooster, the pig, and the dog, I hold up my hand and say, “No, I’d better take care of it this time,” and I go outside to ask the woman, gently, to hold down the noise.
Such is life in paradise.
Mike was a Bible translator for the Mum language group. He also served as PBT’s Assistant Director of Language Affairs. He and his wife Linda lived in the village of Katiati. Their two boys, Christopher and Ryan went to school at the Ukarumpa International High School.