I have no idea how I managed to come to the conclusion, but right up until the day I left for Tacloban, I thought that the vast majority of people I met wouldn’t speak a word of English. I asked Jackie to teach me some words in the local language – Waray-waray – but it was not a success. I’m
pretty bad terrible at languages anyway, but stick letters like ‘nga’ together or insist that ‘r’s’ need to be rolled and my tongue refuses to do anything at all.
I practised every day on the train into work though, (muttering under your breath with a look of utter concentration is a really good way to make sure nobody sits next to you) and every night before I went to sleep, but nothing would stick and I just ended up making up new words.
I tied myself in ever tighter knots until some of my colleagues suggested I buy a ‘Point it’ book to take with me. At least that way I could communicate the essentials, and I had a long list of phrases from Jackie that I could also point at.
But as it turns out, English is taught in schools in the Philippines and just about everyone knows some, usually a lot. Some people clearly didn’t feel confident talking to me, but having demonstrated my complete lack of Waray on the first night to the family (I did try, but it just resulted in a lot of laughing), and showing them my pointy book, they all realised that any English on their part was going to be really appreciated by me. The book was quite rubbish anyway. I think all the pictures were taken around 1970 and although they covered just about everything, there was only one word we ended up having to mime while I was there: headstone. Although to be fair, I guess that’s not an everyday word if you’re an average traveller.
The one person who talked to me entirely in English from the moment he met me, and who I don’t think stopped talking to draw breath at any point over the 12 days, was Biboy. He is 7 and was so fluent he helped with translating and tried to teach me the Waray for various animals. He also informed me on my first day that I was ‘super sweaty’. Yes, thanks for that Biboy!
There were still moments of confusion; for the first three days I thought I was staying with the most accident prone family in the world….they all kept saying ‘oh-oh’. It took me about three days to work out that this meant ‘yes’. I must have completely confused the little ones as when we were playing and they dropped something or had to miss a turn on animal dominoes I’d automatically say ‘oh-oh’ meaning ‘oops’ but actually saying ‘yes’ to them. It was all a bit muddled!
So what did I learn in Waray? Well, I can say thank you – Salamat – , but even when you are as terrible as I am at foreign languages, that’s the one word you should know.
The other two relate to food –marasa means (I think, I hope!) ‘that was lovely’ and busog means ‘full’. For some reason, probably the tongue tying issue, I never learned full sentences, so I finished my meals in a true ‘I’m English and I’m rubbish, but I’ll have a bit of a go’ way. I’d say:
‘That was marasa, but now I am busog’ and rub my tummy.
Well, I am English, I am rubbish, but I did have a go. Kind of :o)