Monday, July 25, 2011

The Spaghetti Project

After nearly two months of living in hotels and hostels and now somebody else’s house, I’ve been aching to get in a kitchen and cook something for a while now. And much as I really do love Indonesian food, I miss, well, other things, like pasta, or samosas. So when somehow the topic of cooking came up while I was in Bintuni, and Juen asked if I knew how to make spaghetti, quickly promised to make some as soon as possible, with saus tomat and daging. Or, even better than meat sauce, meatballs. And garlic bread, naturally. Go big or go home.

Today was the big day. First stop was Hadi Mart, our sad excuse for a grocery store, where somehow I managed to find real Filippo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil (no first cold press, but I am in Papua), imported Dutch butter in a can, frozen ground beef, and actual fettuccine. Shocking, considering most of the time they don’t even have bananas, in a part of the world where they grow in half the backyards in town. I figured I’d riff on my ragu recipe from Siena, and while there was no celery the carrots were pre-peeled and gorgeous. The local tomatoes were pathetic – the few red ones were moldy, and the rest were green and hard – but I bought a few anyway, and made up for it with a little can of tomato paste and (surprise!) some reasonably good jarred spaghetti sauce. I was hoping this would be entirely from scratch, but there’s no tomato sauce without tomatoes, so we make some compromises. All that, plus a loaf of bread, some milk, onions, banana chips, and a bottle of shampoo came to a little under $30, which is maybe a lot for a spaghetti dinner, but given nearly everything was imported I think I did pretty well.

Next challenge: cooking the stuff. Ibu was out for the afternoon, so with the help of Juen’s younger sister Virgine I started chopping vegetables around 4:00. The knives frankly sucked, so I was sawing away at the onions more than really slicing them, but it worked. The kitchen in the house pretty much has a tank of drinking water, dishes, and a sink; the real cooking is done is a shack out back, and after a few hours on a hot afternoon with those gas burners going I understand why. And thank goodness I had someone to help me, since I never would have figured out those burners myself – it’s more a super-sized camping stove setup than what you’d find in a kitchen. We sautéed the onions, carrots, and tomato paste in butter an olive oil, and already the smell was incredible, at least to a homesick quarter-Italian like myself. After that a few minced cloves of garlic cadged from the pantry, then the chopped tomatoes and jar of sauce. There’s no basil that I could find in this town, and certainly no oregano or parsley, so I was relying on the sauce to provide the herbs, at least what little it contained. And as Manokwari is a holy city – this is where the missionaries first arrived on mainland Papua, after their stay on Mansinam Island – there’s no red wine to be found here either. Pity. A pinch of salt, some black pepper, one little chili pepper, and some water, then set aside to boil for a while.

Next up: meatballs. Following the advice of the ever-wise Marcella Hazan, I soaked two slices of white bread in milk, then mashed them with some salt, pepper, garlic, minced onions, and a borrowed egg. All that got kneaded into the meat and rolled into balls. Then, because there was no oven and this is Indonesia, the balls were deep fried. Mmm, oil.

It was about this point when Ibu and her friend came home fro the market and started working outside the kitchen, cleaning singkong leaves, making coconut milk from grated coconut, and boiling big pots of eggs. Everyone was pretty intrigued by the whole sauce-making process, but then I was pretty intrigued by the making of the coconut milk, so.

While the sauce was boiling again, with the addition of a few meatballs for umami, I buttered a few slices of bread and went up to toast them in the little George Foreman-style grill everyone here seems to have for making toasted sandwiches. When they were golden I rubbed them with half a clove of garlic, and set that out. The sauce needed a little salt and a squirt of vinegar (lemon juice would have been ideal, but the closest they get here is lime, and that just would have been weird). Then boil up the fettucini, mix the meatballs into the sauce, add a little pasta water for texture and a pat of butter to the noodles, and presto: an Italian(-ish) dinner.

And it was fucking delicious, if I do say so myself. Objectively not the best ragu I’ve ever made – there’s no bacon around here, after all – but given the constraints and how long it’s been since I’ve had a proper bowl of pasta, amazing. The sauce could have cooked longer to soften up the veggies more, but I had trouble convincing Virgine to keep it on as long as I did, and Ibu needed the burner to do her cooking on anyway. I was particularly impressed by the meatballs; their flavor was great and the deep-frying gave them a nice texture. Hard to tell what everyone else thought, since we don’t really all eat together at the same time ever, but I’ll be having leftovers for breakfast and gladly.

Next up, by request, is hamburgers. At least I know I can find Kraft Singles here.

ETA: They must have liked it, because by breakfast it was all gone. Back to hardboiled eggs in chili sauce, potato croquettes, and some potato lentil soupy thing over rice for me.

Ugh, can't seem to upload the photo. It's here:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Downsides

They're doing construction on the road in front of my building on campus, so the water lines are down. And as of yesterday the cisterns in the bathrooms ran out of water. The drum in the kitchen is empty too. Which means... ugh. I miss first-world plumbing.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Weekend in the Country

The road to Bintuni is its own special kind of hell.

It starts out innocently enough, a reasonably well-paved lane passing through villages and bits of forest, narrow enough that two pickup trucks passing each other each have to put a wheel in the grass but two lanes anyway. Some twists and turns, some cows grazing in the verge, some pigs and chickens crossing the road and dogs lying in the middle, nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, the driver slams on the gas to pass anyone in front of him, but everyone in Indonesia drives that way so by now I’m used to it. And the scenery’s kind of pretty.

Soon enough we get some mountains, some ups and downs to go along with the lefts and rights, the curves get tighter and the potholes get deeper and wider. While we’re at it, the view out over the bay gets better. This being the rainy season, there’s a few mudslides, some patches of dirt to clamber over, but not for nothing are we riding in a 4-wheel-drive pickup. The driver puts ‘My Heart Will Go On’ in the cd player. Celine Dion is inexplicably, wildly popular in Indonesia at the moment, and this is at least the third time I’ve heard this song played. Then some Leanne Rimes and it’s like being at an awkward middle school dance all over again. But things could be much worse.

It’s around hour four when things start to get much worse. We turn west away from the coast and start to head inland, over the mountains toward Bintuni Bay. This is where the Indonesia Tourism Map I downloaded shows the road ending. The potholed paved road and reasonably good gravel starts to intersperse with longer and longer stretches of mud tracks that undulate like sea waves on a windy day, which are far more charming in a sailboat than four hours into a car trip. Occasionally, inexplicably, there will be a stretch of fresh, smooth pavement, giving way to mud again or something you can tell was once paved, but probably last maintained by the Dutch, who left this part of the world in 1960. Creeks cross the road. The ruts fill with rainwater. The driver swerves to avoid the worst potholes or find the firmest path through the mud. We’re still in the mountains, so the hills are steep and slippery. The engine strains as it tries to go up; we fishtail on the way down. Mud splatters everywhere, including into the open window that I open each time the driver lights a new cigarette, which is often. Somebody’s put wooden planks in some of the deeper ruts, which are helpful if they’re recent and still lying flat but just one more obstacle to swerve around if we’re not. Most of the time we’re not breaking 15 miles and hour, more like 3 in the roughest spots and booking it as fast as we (not-so-safely) can in the better areas. Around this point it starts to get dark. No streetlights out here. Somebody in the back starts puking. I thank god for Dramamine. Bats dart across the road as we head through the forest. Something white streaks in front of us – a cockatoo, I think. I put Terry Gross on my ipod and pray.

I’d wanted to go to Bintuni for a while. If Manokwari is on the back of the Bird’s Head, Bintuni is high on its throat, right above the Adam’s apple. Both of my speakers in Manokwari had spent time there, and apparently a lot of Wandamen speakers of various dialects live in the city. (City? Small town. Very small town.) My landlady Ibu Marice suggested that I catch a ride over with her family when they headed back, and when I mentioned it to Juen (her daughter and Gio’s mother, as I finally figured out), she got excited and asked if Saturday was good to leave. Sure, why not? This was Wednesday or so at the time. I got my surat jalan from the police station (see previous post), and was ready to go at the appointed hour of 10am on Saturday. Juen had called around and arranged seats for us in a car over. (The driver, she said, was her boyfriend. In Bintuni I met her husband. Not sure if that was just bad English or what. I didn’t ask.) At 10:45, Juen got off the phone and said she was taking her motorbike to town to get our car. At 12:15, after I’d had a little lunch and watched some tv, it arrived. We drove in circles around town, picking people up, dropping one girl off at the airport, waiting, and getting a load of brooms and sunglasses from the market to bring to a store in Bintuni. At the market a crazy man with dreadlocks and a mouth bright red from betel was fascinated by the bule in the front seat and tried to climb in the drivers side. We locked the doors. He hung around the windows for another 20 minutes while they loaded the cargo in the back. It was 2:00 when we finally hit the road for real.

And at 10:00 we made it to Bintuni. The water was off at Juen’s house, which apparently occasionally happens there, so we stopped at boarding house instead. I paid the driver my Rp 500,000 (roughly $60) for the ride and fell fast asleep. At 2am, Juen turned on the lights and announced that the water was back and we were moving to her house, where we wouldn’t have to pay for the room. A neighbor who drives an ojek (motorcycle taxi) brought us over one at a time. They showed me the spare room and I fell fast asleep.

I woke up around 8:30 the next morning. It was grey out and raining hard. There’s no electricity in Bintuni from 6am to 6pm unless you’re in a hotel, which I wasn’t. The room was dim. I opened the curtain, but the window glass was frosted so that didn’t help much. The bathroom was even darker, with one high window paned in green plastic, an Asian-style squat toilet, and a wet floor. I understand now why feet are considered unclean in this part of the world. After a while I decided it would be less miserable to put on some clothes and go out in the front room, where there were more windows and more light. So I sat out there and worked until 10, when Juen and her husband, Haykel, got up and he went to get breakfast – yellow coconut rice with chicken, fried noodles, a boiled egg, and sambal, wrapped in a banana leaf. Delicious.

I hadn’t talked to Juen much in Manokwari; didn’t even know her name until I asked for her cell number before we left. I had pegged her as roughly 16, still with the full compliment of baby fat (my Manokwari album on Picasa has a picture of her and Gio), but it turns out she’s 22 and studying linguistics at Unipa. She and her husband have been married for a year; Gio is 9 months old. You do the math. Whoops. (As the Haykel told me with an embarrassed laugh one later evening in Bintuni.) But she was a wonderful hostess and he seems like a good guy. He works in a beer store in Bintuni. Gio mostly stays with mom & grandparents in Manokwari, but every so often goes back to Bintuni for a few days to see his dad.

After breakfast and a nap Juen showed me the battery-powered emergency lamp so I could shower in less than total darkness, and we went over to Polres (a branch of the police station) to show them my surat jalan and register me. We’d stopped by the night before, but apparently whoever they needed to call about my travel letter wasn’t in at 10pm, so they’d told us to come back. This time they were all set, but when I reached in my bag to get my surat out of the notebook where I was keeping it, I came up empty. Apparently last night in my sleepy fog I’d stuck it into a different notebook, one which was now at the house. I felt like an idiot. They told us to come back at 7 that night.

From there we hopped a pair of ojeks to a kampong on the other side of town, where native Bintuni people live. So we sat around eating bananas steamed with rice flour dough and chatting, and I was taken into a house (hut?) to see a baby who’d been born there just a few days before. But the Wandamen speakers were all out for the day, so we headed home.

So we hung out til the lights came on at 6, took me to register for real this time at 7, and then the three of us (Juen, Haykel, and me) went to a café for dinner and karaoke. I ordered pisang keju coklat (fried bananas with chocolate and cheese) because sorry, I love the stuff, and sang Cole Porter badly. Juen sang ‘My Heart Will Go On’ well (that song again!). I met a friend of theirs, about my age, who speaks some Wamesa (a dialect of Wandamen). around 10:30 we headed home.

The next morning was just as dreary, but by then I knew enough to head straight out to the living room to get some sunlight. Another 10am breakfast of yellow rice in a banana leaf and far-too-sweet tea. (I saw later that she filled the cup a sold half-inch deep with sugar before pouring in the hot water, and on the third morning was able to reduce that to a reasonable quarter spoonful for my morning cuppa.) Around 1:30 I was lying in the living room working when a policeman knocked on the door and asked if I was ready to go. Policemen everywhere make me nervous (too much illicit night swimming at summer camps, I suppose), even more so in Indonesia, and particularly the Indonesian police in Papua, who aren’t exactly known for their gentleness. It took a while for me to realize it was Aco, the Wamesa friend from the karaoke café, who happens to work at Polres. Juen & I got in his car, and he drove us around to the houses of Wamesa speakers until we found one who was at home, Ibu Amelia. A group gathered to watch as I spent 45 minutes recording a wordlist with her. I’d hoped to do a good recording with minimal pairs for phonetic analysis, but with the motorbikes outside and the children gathered at the door and the chickens and the soccer game out front I’m just hoping I’ll be able to make out her voice on the recording. Welcome to fieldwork. Before I left she gave me one of the traditional Wamesa bags she weaves as a kenang-kenangan (parting gift). Or as traditional as you can get with a handle made from plastic cords. It’s pretty sweet. People here seem happy to talk to me about their language, though whether it’s because of the language or because I’m a westerner I’m not entirely sure. But more on that in a later post.

Later that afternoon Juen took me back to the kampong, but the Wandamen speakers were out again so we went to the park instead, which is a stretch of boardwalk through the mangrove forest behind the market and out to the river, where I’m told the crocodiles are. I didn’t see any. Dinner was babi rica-rica, a Manadonese pork dish, with Juen & Haykel & his cousin Christopher, aka Dompel. At home afterwards I wowed them with pictures of this winter’s blizzards and colored fall leaves, and talked about what America is like and why on earth I would travel this far to write a thesis. The Hall’s Vitamin C citrus cough drops were also a big hit. I promised to bring more back next year.

And it was raining again the next morning, though by now I’d got the hang of it. I was also finally getting good at the Asian toilets. (Whoever said girls don’t need to aim obviously never came to Indonesia.) Better than a thighmaster those things are. After breakfast Aco came back again and drove me out to meet a family of Kuri speakers. Kuri, it turns out, is most definitely not a dialect of Wandamen, contrary to what everyone insisted, but there were enough similarities to make it interesting and I recorded a wordlist anyway.

When Juen got back from fixing her motorbike, we went out for papeda. Papeda is a traditional Papuan staple food made from sago flour. It’s often compared to jellyfish – the local word for jellyfish is ‘papeda laut’, or ‘papeda of the sea’ – but though I’ve never actually eaten jellyfish that doesn’t seem quite right to me at all. What it’s like really is a gluey, grey, translucent, gelatinous mess, most commonly eaten with a yellow fish stew on top. The flavor isn’t bad at all, and I made it through a reasonable-sized serving before the texture started to get to me. The fish actually tasted Italian, with strong notes of garlic, at least until I squeezed half a lime over it. Glad I tried the stuff, probably won’t do it again.

The plan was originally to head home on Thursday, but that quickly got pushed back to Wednesday because of some planned political event. Then on Tuesday morning Juen asked if I was okay leaving that afternoon, since the gubernatorial election was on Wednesday and meant there were no cars available. Sure, why not. Then it was Wednesday morning again, and when we got home from Papeda it was ‘right now’. So I shoved my stuff in my bag and 20 minutes later the car came, and by 5:30 or so we were leaving Bintuni.

The ride home was far worse than the ride there. It got dark not too long after we left, and three days of rain had made the roads even slipperier than before. Maybe htree hours in we stopped at a roadside shack for dinner & coffee for the driver. Juen had already puked. The rest of us ate noodles. I asked about a bathroom and was directed to the back, to a room where an old man was washing dishes. No, you don’t go out the back, this is the bathroom. The guy left and closed the door behind him. Not even a squat toilet here, not even a hole, you just pee on the slatted wood floor and toss some water over it when you’re done. The house was a few feet above the ground, sitting on stilts, so everything falls through. Lord only knows what happens if you need to go #2.

And while we were resting there, the rain started up again. When we finally got back in the car, around 9:30, the windshield was fogged up and for the first five minutes the driver decided not to use the wipers. I couldn’t see a damned thing. Instead of three girls in the back like last time, there were two guys alongside Juen, all chainsmoking along with the driver. Nerve-wracking is an understatement.

My biggest piece of advice to travelers anywhere is to bring plastic grocery bags with you wherever you go. They can keep your dirty clothes separate for a few days away from home. They can hold your wet bathing suit and leave everything else dry. And when the two Dramamine you’ve taken prove unequal to seven hours of swerving along a muddy mountain road, you can puke into them. I’ve never in my life been happier to see a house than I was to see this one when we finally pulled up at 3:15 in the morning. As far as I’m concerned, it was glowing. I don’t care how much Susi Air charges for a ticket (roughly $120 each way, 45min in the air), next time I’m flying.

And this morning I slept til 9, then went into town to use the ATM and some internet. Nobody’s expecting me on campus yet, so it’s a lazy day at home of typing and hanging out. I stopped at a café downtown for lunch, was handed three menus of food and drink, and was told when I tried to order that they didn’t actually have any of that. Not quite sure what was up with that, but I left rather than sit around and pay too much for a plain cup of tea. And now it’s dinner time, and I’ve typed four pages, and Ibu made a rockin' cucumber salad, so goodnight.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Grind

I’ve had a request for a post about my work, and after all I am supposedly here on research, so here goes. I’ll try not to bore you too much with the linguo-babble. (Actual linguists, go ahead and skip the next paragraph or three.)

For starters, there’s roughly 7000 languages in the world (depending on how you count, which is a complicated issue in itself, but let’s just say the line between language and dialect isn’t always clear). The number about which we know nothing or nearly so is huge – a quarter? half? more? – and depending who you ask somewhere between 20% and 90% of the 7000 will cease to be spoken in the next 50 or so years, mostly because they’re being overtaken by larger regional or (inter)national languages like English or Indonesian or Swahili.

So what I’m doing is taking one of those so-far-undocumented languages and documenting it. There’s a few different arguments for doing this sort of work. The David Harrison argument says that languages encode all sorts of cultural knowledge that disappears when the language dies. The Inuit don’t have 50 words for snow, but their language certainly does distinguish between more different kinds than English (let’s see, we’ve got snow, sleet, hail, maybe ‘wet snow’… not much), because it’s an important aspect of their life. If a language uses a different word for ‘go’ depending on whether you’re walking with or against the flow of the nearest river, that encodes a pretty detailed knowledge of the local river system; or you might have a language that names a plant after the disease they use it to cure, or a month after the food plants that ripen then. All potentially important knowledge, which becomes at least less accessible if you stop speaking that language. The counterargument is that it’s a property of human language that any language can express any concept, and therefore that knowledge can be expressed just as well in Indonesian as in Wandamen, but I don’t quite buy it. There’s a difference in ease of expression for sure, one word vs a sentence or two, the name of something vs a fact to remember about it. There’s a difference between remembering that apples fruit in September and calling September Apple-month. So even if we can’t say that cultural knowledge is necessarily irrevocably lost with the death of a language, I think we can say that it becomes less readily and explicitly accessible. Whether the preservation of this knowledge is important is another question – diversity for its own sake? the intangible, arguable good of remembering traditional ways? the more tangible benefits of medicinal plants? – but I think it’s safe to say that it’s better preserved if the language is preserved with it.

The argument I usually take, since it pertains to linguistics rather than some fuzzy concept of ‘the good of humanity’, is that we linguists are in the business of (among other things) discovering universals, and it’s awfully hard to claim something as universal when you have no data on (let’s say) a third of the languages out there. There’s a lot of things that we claim all languages do, in terms of word order, and sound structures, and so forth, and if we haven’t found a language yet that does those things it’s pretty safe to say that they’re at least rare. But if you’re talking universals it’s important to distinguish between rare and impossible, because if it’s rare you have to account for it, whereas if it’s impossible you have to account for the lack of it. Of course we’ll never have all the data on all the properties of all human languages past and present, and even if we did that doesn’t cover the whole space of possible human languages (some things that don’t happen probably don’t happen because of chance, rather than because of impossibility). But we should still do what we can to gather what data we can get, because the more we have the better off we are. And the languages that do cool unusual things (from the point of view of the well-studies European languages) are the same ones that are likely to be underdocumented, because often they’re the ones without any close relatives (more related languages means more chance that at least one of them has been studied, and therefore we’ve seen this before) who’ve developed on their own, and often that means they’re small and remote and harder to get to. So anyway, while I’m sympathetic to the cultural preservation argument, I’m here for more-data-is-better reasons, because who knows what theory my Wandamen data might provide support for, or counterevidence against, or what cool properties it might have that we want our theories to account for. Also I like getting paid to hang out on tropical islands. But don’t tell the grant bodies that.

Wandamen itself is an Austronesian language (Eastern Malayo-Polynesian, South Halmahera-West New Guinea, Cenderawasih Bay, if that means anything to you), roughly as closely related to Indonesian as English is to Russian, but related nonetheless, and with plenty of loan words. The last speaker count was done in 1991 and estimated roughly 5000 people who used the language, but from talking to my consultants that sounds a little low. There may be ~5000 ethnically Wandamen people, but it’s also used as a lingua franca in Wondama regency, which means non-Wandamen people in the area speak it as a second language for inter-ethnic communication. And given the sheer mind-boggling number of different languages around here, from both the Austronesian and various Papuan families (see ETHNOLOGUE for a language map, which in my opinion is missing a couple), a lingua franca is a useful thing to have. From what I can tell it’s small but not in immediate danger of extinction – young people in cities like Manokwari don’t speak it anymore (they use Indonesian and Papuan Malay instead), but young people in the villages do, and again as a lingua franca it’s in regular use as a second language. Who knows what the story will be in 50 years – Indonesian and Papuan Malay are becoming more widespread – but it’s not a case of five elderly last speakers, like many languages around the world.

And Wandamen itself has several dialects, between three and nine depending who you ask. My main language consultant, Ibu Marice, speaks Windesi, and the other that I meet with occasionally speaks Wamesa. Pak Mathias tells me that Wamesa is the original homeland of all the Wandamen people, and the only reason the language is called Wandamen is that that’s the name of the area where the Dutch missionaries who write such things down first landed and set up their school. Though Bu Marice would probably say the same about Windesi.

Which brings us to: what the hell am I actually doing here? Recording a lot, analyzing a little, transcribing even less. Most days I show up at the CELD office at the university around 9:15am. I meet with Bu Marice around 9:30 or 10, and we spend roughly and hour doing elicitation. Some days that’s mostly vocabulary – names of plants and animals, lists of words, some short sentences and cultural information. Some days it’s storytelling, when I try to get more natural speech patterns and hopefully examples of things I wouldn’t think to ask about, or wouldn’t understand the explanation about if I did ask. (We speak standard-ish, Papuan-accented Indonesian with each other, and my limitations become daily more apparent. Though actually all the translating it all into English in my transcriptions is great for my Indonesian – okay, so ‘karaini’ in Wandamen means ‘sarang’ in Indonesian, but what the hell is ‘sarang’? “Beehive’, as it turns out. Now I know.) And some days are more grammar, with verb conjugations and pronoun paradigms.

These last are probably the most immediately relevant for me. My dissertation will likely be a reference grammar, describing more or less everything there is to describe about the language, which is about as huge a task as it sounds. But my focus is the morphophonology, or what happens to the sounds when you put different word parts together. So verb conjugations have a lot of that. And where English has roughly six person/number distinctions (1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, singular and plural, or I, you, he/she/it, we, y’all, they), Wandamen has 15. There’s first, second, and third person. There’s singular and plural, but also dual, for talking about exactly two people (we two, you two) and trial for talking about three (them three). And, like Indonesian, it makes an inclusive/exclusive distinction in the first person: we (me and you and maybe somebody else) vs we (me and somebody else but not you). So that’s 15 pronouns, though luckily the verb forms in the trial are the same as in the plural. And if you put the “we” prefix (for example) on a verb that starts with a p, it comes out looking a little different than if you put it on a verb starting with an r. And that’s roughly what I’m looking at.

Some other cool things about Wandamen: In the second and third person singular (you and he/she/it), if the verb starts with a consonant rather than a vowel the conjugation prefix becomes an infix. So if the verb is ‘tawa’, to fall, ‘I fall’ is ‘itawa’, with the prefix i-, ‘you fall’ is ‘tuawa’, with an -u- inserted, and ‘he falls’ is ‘tiawa’, with an -i- put in. If the verb starts with a consonant everything is just a prefix, so ‘api’ eat becomes ‘yapi’ I eat, ‘buapi’ you eat, and ‘diapi’ he/she/it eats.

The system of possessives is complicated, and I’m still working on figuring out exactly what on earth is going on. But for starters: in English, the possessive pronouns are my, your, his, our, etc. So with 15 pronouns, there’s 15 of those. A lot of languages make a distinction between something that’s inalienably possessed (your foot, for example, or your mother) vs alienably possessed (i.e. my laptop; I own it but it can readily become not mine). Where they draw that distinction varies – what about your shadow? your name? bodily fluids? your house, in a culture where your family has lived in that house for more or less forever? Wandamen, so far as I can tell so far, makes a three-way distinction: one way of saying ‘my’ for body parts and names, another for family members, and a third for normal alienable possessions (including shadows). And instead of changing the pronoun, it also puts a prefix and/or suffix on the noun. So if ‘ru’ is ‘head’, ‘my head’ is ‘runei’, your head is ‘rumu’, and ‘them two’s heads’ is ‘sundumi’ (sun+ru+mi). But ‘my father’ is ‘yai’, ‘your father’ is ‘tamamui’ (???) and ‘them two’s father’ is ‘mutamabuai’ (????). And my house (anio = house) is ‘ine anio’, ‘your house’ is ‘nomu anio’, and ‘them two’s house’ is ‘sunewe anio’ If your head isn’t totally spinning, and I sympathize if it is (remember, these are just three of the 15 slots in each paradigm), you’ll notice a few patterns coming out, but it’s a real beast.

The other angle I plan to take on this, if I can get enough data from different dialects, is a historical/comparative one. How do the dialects differ? What do they have in common? Given that, what did the proto-language likely look like? And what can the differences tell us about language contact? There’s a ton of language contact in the area, both with the gazillions of neighboring languages and also through extensive trade networks (cloves, nutmeg, slaves) going back a few thousand years between Cenderawasih Bay and the spice islands of Maluku, particularly Ternate and Tidore, which speak non-Austronesian languages and tended to be the ones in power, at least until the Dutch took over. The spice trade of course was worldwide – nutmeg was worth roughly its weight in gold in England, where they thought it would cure the plague – so there’s influences from farther afield than just Maluku coming through as well. So if Windesi borrowed a lot of words for fruit and colors and Wamesa didn’t, what does that say about who was talking to whom? (I’ve yet to collect fruit and color terms for Wamesa, but I’m told they differ quite a bit between dialects.)

So that’s pretty much what I do. After my hour of elicitation I copy the sound files to my computer and go goof off for a while, maybe check email, because frankly elicitation is exhausting. Then I work until lunch, maybe transcribing earlier recordings, or entering words into the dictionary, or trying to figure out what the hell is up with those possessives. I usually go home for lunch, since it’s a nice walk, then work some more at the office in the afternoon. And in the evening I come home for dinner, work a bit more, maybe read a book if my head feels like it’s about to explode from too much Wandamen, as it often does by that point, and watch Master Chef Australia or Leverage or whatever other bad western show happens to be on in the living room (often cooking reality shows or So You Think You Can Dance, though last night it was Cougartown – no wifi at home but they get the Singapore/Hong Kong satellite tv network).

More exciting news: on Saturday I’m going to Bintuni, which is traditional Wandamen country and a place I may want to spend a chunk of next year’s long trip in. (Pros: lots of Wandamen speakers from various dialects. Cons: too many crocodiles to swim in the ocean.) And I paid my first, uh, cigarette money today while getting my letter of permission to travel from the police station – when the guy holding your passport asks for 50,000 rupiah (roughly $6), it’s hard to say no. But I got the letter, and Bintuni should be fun – hopefully I’ll have a lot to write about when I get back on Thursday.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Snorkels & Crabs

Nearly two weeks in Papua so far. Some highlights: I found a warnet downtown with fast-ish wifi, $2.50 for three hours. Pak Yusuf had his birthday, with cake for the office. (Why does chocolate cake in Indonesia always taste like bubblegum?) I got to go snorkeling off Pulau Mansinam. And Ibu cooked the crabs from Bintuni.

Also the grandbaby is back. (He went home to Bintuni for a while.) He’s fascinated by me. Anytime I’m within view, you can see him staring rapt across the room at me. Not a lot of white girls around, I guess. It’s fun to be new and exciting, especially since I don’t have to change any diapers.

For Mansinam, we met at 10am on campus. So naturally everybody was there by 11:30. I was all ready in bathing suit & sundress, but first there was an odyssey through town, buying things for lunch at a few different places, picking up more people, and finally heading to the dock, where we caught a water taxi to Mansinam Island. The water was that shade of turquoise you see in postcards but don’t expect any real water to be. And of course swaying palm trees, cloud-swathed Arfak mountains in the background, all that. Once we go dropped off on the island it was a bit of a trek to the beach. Paradisiacal as it looks from a distance, all of Manokwari drops its trash in the bay, and visitors to Mansinam leave theirs on the beach, so water and shore on the lee side are full of candy wrappers, plastic bottles, banana peels, and the occasional dirty diaper. Better to hike to windward, which, while not quite pristine, is a hell of a lot better.

On the way we passed a giant white cross, built as a monument on the site where Christian missionaries first landed in Papua in 1855. It took then three years here before they finally headed over to the mainland, though it couldn’t have been more than half an hour’s canoe ride away (or 10 minutes by our motor-powered outrigger of a water taxi). The path was cement, but the day was hot and humid and the swarms of mosquitoes as we passed through the forest didn’t help. By the time we finally found the long, wide, clean beach we were looking for, I went straight for the water. Pak Yusuf agreed with me, but everyone else started lunch first.

The water was lovely, warm, clear, blue. On the shore were tiny hermit crabs, and little white sand crabs that darted into their holes if you got too close. For lunch we had packets of rice with tempe and vegetables (and whole fried fish, if you like ‘em), eaten off their wax-paper wrappers. Screw the 30-minute post-lunch wait, I pulled out my snorkel and headed back to the water. (Yes, I brought my snorkel to Indonesia with me. I sure wasn’t using it in New Haven.) I also had my digital underwater camera from Christmas, the products of which prove that you (or rather I) can take just as crappy pictures with a fancy-pants digital camera as with a disposable, just with the digital one you can take a lot more, and crappy movies too.

Manokwari’s not exactly a snorkeling destination, but if you’re there anyway it’s worth doing. There’s some coral close to shore, and a good number of fish. I saw a bunch of blue starfish, a lot of urchins, some white/yellow/black angelfish, , a couple of parrotfish, and a lot of shiny little things in bright colors. Also a sneaker, some candy wrappers, and a plastic sack or two. And most of the way a pair of 7-year-old boys was following me around and yelling not to go out too deep, that there was a whale, and could they borrow my goggles? A whale would have been pretty cool, actually; I was more afraid of the two jetskis zooming around the beach.

Before we left, I showed Eny and Sutri how to backfloat. Given how close the ocean is, it’s surprising how many Indonesians don’t know how to swim. It started drizzling as we left the beach. We hiked back to the pier, waited nearly two hours for a water taxi back, and made it home for dinner, with plenty of bug bites but somehow no sunburn to show for the day. By 10pm, it was raining so hard I could hardly sleep for the noise (thanks, tin roofs).

And today the crabs. Last week, Gio’s father brought two giant purple crabs (kepiting) from Bintuni, and until now they’d been sitting in the freezer, boiled but awaiting further preparation. After all the fanfare, they finally came out this morning. I came out looking forward to a light breakfast of tea, papaya, and roti, since there were a few buns still left over from yesterday’s grocery run. As I was finishing up, out came bowls of green beans, potatoes, and fried tempe. Okay, a few bites of those so as not to offend. Then – wait! Kepiting! A big bowl of curried crab. Some parts were already broken open, but for the rest, there was just teeth and spoons to do the job, no nutcrackers here. I took a big claw, probably the easiest part to tackle. It was good, once I figured the damn thing out. Hell of an odd breakfast, but good.

And of course there was more crab for lunch and dinner. No refrigerating of the leftovers here – what’s cooked stays out until it gets eaten or gets too old. It’s actually nice having more people in the house now; dishes get finished faster so there’s more variety. For dinner I had the honor of finding my way around all the little mazes of shell to get at the meat inside the body near the legs. These things sure do make you work for them.

Tomorrow back to the office for an afternoon meeting with my Windesi speaker, and hopefully I’ll be able to get this posted. I’ve got pictures from Mansinam, including a few from underwater, which I’ll try to get up at some point this week – I’ve got another hour’s credit left at PapuaNet that expires on Wednesday, and they’re fast enough to get at least a few shots up.

UPDATE: The internet is being shockingly fast on campus today, so all my new photos are posted at in the Manokwari and Mansinam albums.

Also - why does Google think I'm in China? It makes it really hard to sign in when all the links are in Chinese.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's the small things...

I bought an electric teakettle at the Hadi Mart in town yesterday, which means I get a liter of nice hot boiling water to mix in with the cold stuff I pour over my head to bathe each morning. Yes, it cost me almost twenty bucks. Lukewarm showers = totally worth it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Welcome to Oz

Chickens and ducks by the side of the road I’ve come to expect. Same with the occasional cow or goat. But the pigs came as a surprise. We’re sure as hell not in Java anymore…

I left Malang by travel a bit before 5 on Monday evening. My plane out of Surabaya was supposed to take off at 11:30, but it was delayed coming from its last port of embarkation, so we left closer to 1am. The a/c vent next to me was broken, so the plane was freezing, and I was still dressed for the tropics. I managed to doze a bit as we flew through Makassar in Sulawesi, then to Sorong (my first glimpse of Papua!), then finally a last 45-minute leg to Manokwari, where we landed around 9:30 am local time (or roughly 8:30 Monday night EST).

The Manokwari airport has one terminal – domestic departures only – which consists as far as I could see of one room, with a big long counter where they pile all the luggage from the plane and call out the numbers on the baggage tags for people to come claim them. I was picked up at the airport by Pak Yusuf, who runs the Center for Endangered Language Documentation at the university here, and Sutri, one of the linguists there. As little sleep as I’d gotten on the plane in, once I hit ground I couldn’t have taken a nap if I’d wanted to. So we started on the grand tour. First stop, once we’d passed those pigs on the road, was the house where I’m renting a room. Ibu Mince ([mɪntʃe], “minn-chay”) and her husband are probably in their late 50’s or so, and they have a few extra rooms that they rent out, often to researchers coming to work with the CELD. 3.5 million rupiah a month gets you a place to sleep (with your own bathroom!), three hot meals a day, and free laundry. These days that comes out to roughly $400. Still definitely more expensive than, say, Java, (and probably some parts of the Midwest, too), but coming from New Haven it sounds pretty good. And naturally it comes with the same I-feel-like-a-plate-of-pasta-for-dinner-but-what’s-on-the table-is-fried-tempe frustrations that always come with this sort of setup for me (see also: last summer in Malang), but again it’s fine for the summer. Maybe next year I’ll get my own apartment.

Compared to last year’s host family from CLS:


-The food’s not quite as good. I miss tempe Malang.

-No hot water in the bathroom. (Same tub-and-dipper setup as everywhere else in this country.)

-The only place I can walk to is the university – no stores, really only one warung if I want to go out for a meal. I’d say we’re on the outskirts of town, but the whole town is basically outskirts, and it gets way more out than this.


-Air con! Seems standard in Manokwari. Never once saw it in Malang.

-I can put my underwear in with the rest of my laundry – no more hand washing in the shower.

-The walk to school is, well, stunning. The Arfak Mountains in the background and more greenery on one street than in all of Malang combined.

Also, the mosquitoes here are ridiculous. There’s swarms of them, and they don’t seem to mind that I slather myself in DEET. I’m probably poisoning myself faster than I’m poisoning them. (Instructions on the bottle: “Wash treated skin with soap and water after returning indoors.” But the mosquitoes are indoors too!) Also, they’re malarial. Here’s praying my Malarone works. And thank god for cortisone cream.

After dropping my stuff off at Ibu Mince’s, we went up to the CELD office. They’ve got a little suite of three rooms at the State University of Papua (Unipa) on the hill overlooking town. It’s a small operation, about three years old, with minimal infrastructure (see also: all of Manokwari), and a library that fills about one bookshelf. (If anyone has any linguistics books to donate, they’d be very appreciated.) But as far as I can tell, they do/facilitate more language documentation that a lot of major universities. The office itself has ongoing projects with Wooi and Iha, two local languages, and is also involved in a few others. In addition to its own work, they train Unipa undergrads in documentation. The students then work on other local languages, and write up their findings as their senior thesis projects. There’s probably far more analysis of Wandamen, the language I’m working on, done here by undergrads than published in the rest of the world combined. (In fact I know there is, since I’ve seen most of the published materials and aside from a pile of wordlists there’s not much to it.) The level of interest in linguistics here, and the number of undergrads they’re training to do documentation, is impressive.

I’d expected that aside from a little logistical support from the CELD I’d be mostly on my own, but it turns out that’s not the case at all, to both of our benefits. There’s no such thing as a casual affiliation here, it seems. I’m based out of their offices, using their resources, and being shown around by their staff (so far mostly Sutri). Next summer I’ll be officially affiliated, and hopefully they’ll be able to help me with the research visa, which is a notoriously giant pain in the ass. In return, I’m participating in their reading group, helping Sutri with her phonology homework, and leaving my data in their archives. Next summer I’ll likely be giving the occasional seminar on my work and using one of their students, Theo, as an assistant. I get their infrastructure, practical knowledge, and local street cred; they get my theoretical expertise ([self-deprecating snort]), my data, and some training for a student. Plus all this local involvement looks great on my grant applications. Win-win.

From the office, we (Sutri & I) went downtown to register me with the police and buy me some shampoo, as my little hotel bottles had run out. No special permission needed to visit Manokwari, but you do need to register your presence. While we were there I got a letter of permission to travel to the area where Wandamen is historically spoken, so if there’s time later in the month I can spend a few days there. After lunch Sutri dropped me off at my homestay, where I took a two-hour nap.

Wednesday was a holiday, so the university was closed. I decided to walk around a bit. “Downtown” Manokwari, such as it is, is situated on the edge of Cenderawasih Bay. The university is on a hill overlooking town (like Cornell in Ithaca), and my house is about a 10-minute walk lightly downhill from the university. I’ve read that Manokwari has about 100,000 residents – it is after all the regional capitol, with the governor’s offices and everything – but I don’t know where they put more than a few thousand of them. Downtown consists of maybe three fairly busy streets, with maybe two department stores and the only building over two stories high being the Swiss Bellhotel. It feels more like Delray Beach than Albany – low houses, spread out, lots of trees. The setting, though is spectacular, every time I take the road into town and see the Arfak mountains across the bay, my jaw drops a little. Ten feet from the road, if there isn’t a house there’s jungle. I started walking down the hill, figuring I’d head into town and see what I found, but halfway down Ibu Mince’s husband passed me on his motorbike and, since you don’t walk anywhere alone in Indonesia, gave me a ride first to the market, where he had a blanket mended, then another few kilometers outside of town to Pasir Putih, a beach with a truly stunning view out over the bay. I didn’t have my bathing suit with me, but I waded in up to my ankles, and the water was warm and nice. There’s an island a little ways out called Masinam that supposedly has some great snorkeling. Add that to my itinerary. And from the beach we took the scenic rout home, 15 minutes through the countryside. Lush doesn’t even begin to describe it. (Neither does steep, at some points.)

Thursday and Friday I spent in the CELD offices, mostly doing prep work. The woman who deals with the administrative stuff is at the moment in Germany, so there’s not much to be done without her. On Friday I came down with a nasty cold, since with the stray dogs barking and the pet bird squawking and the grandbaby visiting I hadn’t been sleeping terribly well my first few nights. Earplugs = necessary. (The grandbaby is Geo, btw, the chubbiest, happiest 9-month-old I’ve ever seen, who apparently only ever cries once a day, though that once always seems to coincide with my trying to fall asleep.) But on Friday I hit linguistic gold – I was invited to stop by a meeting of students about to present their senior theses, two of whom are Wandamen and writing about the Wandamen language. As semi-urban youth neither of them actually speak Wandamen, but their parents do. Theo, my probable future assistant, is writing about verbal morphology and introduced me to his mother, a fluent speaker who will probably be my main informant. I met with her yesterday (Saturday) morning and spent a good 40 minutes getting some basic words and phrases. The other student, Yesra, has a father who speaks Wandamen, but he lives outside town so I’ll probably only meet with him occasionally. We’ve got an appointment for Monday.

And today is Sunday, another day off, so my plan is to transcribe my recording from yesterday and try once again to explore the town. I don’t know when I’ll actually get to post this – there’s no internet at home, no internet in the office, and while there is wifi in the building next door at Unipa it’s painfully slow. The warnet near town is reasonably fast but since there’s no wifi there either I have to use their computers rather than my laptop, and the prospect of viruses makes me wary of using my USB stick. By the same token, lord only knows when pictures will be uploadable. There’s probably a wifi-enabled warnet somewhere in town; I’ll keep an eye out today and cart my laptop down later. Yay for developing countries… next time I’m bringing an aircard.

Monday Morning Update: Happy 4th of July! I took a plate off the top of a cup of tea this morning and found two cicaks (geckos?) inside. They were still alive. Poor things.

Saturday, July 2, 2011


I'm here. Arrived safe on Tuesday morning by overnight plane from Surabaya via Makassar and Sorong, having gotten maybe 2 hours of sleep en route, all in 20-minute chunks. I'm in an internet cafe right now with nothing realy written yet, so I'll put up a real post in a day or two, but for now just wanted to say that Manokwari is lovely, the people are great, my homestay's working out well, and I had my first session with a Wandamen speaker this morning. Now if only the mosquitoes would lay off a little...