March 14, 2004
On thop of the mango tree!
West Indian inhabitants have a unique way of speaking. Their dialect is refered to by linguists as an english-based creyole. To the untrained, english speaking brain (i.e. mine, 6 months ago), one can understand a farily large amount of the words spoken. However, when a group of 2 or more West Indians start talking rapidly and use slang words and phrases, the whole conversation can sound much more like a foreign language than English. I've heard that even within the West Indian islands there are specific accents. Trinidadians apparently are easy to pick out because of their accent. Liz just told me last night, in fact, that when she went to St. Vincent (the island directly north of here), she could not understand the Vincentians a lot of the time. Since I've been here, I can tell that my receptive understanding has increased tremendously, although I still what to ask people to repeat things on almost a daily basis.
One of the many dialect patterns is using a "t" or "d" sound instead of "th". De, dem, tat, and tose, are more often spoken in Grenada than the, them, that and those. Many children have a very difficult time even making the "th" sound. Grenadians in general are quite aware of this and do make efforts to speak "standard english" in formal settings as well as the classroom. In schools, teachers talk to children about standard english vs. dialect in relation to pronunciation and grammatical patterns. The attempt is not to extinguish dialect as much as to teach children to be bilingual, in a way, so that they can communicate effectively despite the situation.
On Friday, I was at Telescope Primary school doing some reading assessments with children. The school is working towards doing a structured, leveled reading program and the first step is to assess the students levels. One of the girls that I was working was taking the exercise quite seriously and obviously wanted to do well. She was being very careful to speak "standard english" and was using a "th" sound when reading the words that called for it. After some basic phonics and sight words, we moved onto a short story about a boy who climbed up a mango tree to retrieve some of it's fruit. After she read it, I asked her some comprehension questions. When I asked her "Where did the boy get the mango?" She proudly and precisely answered me "On thop of the mango tree!" It kept me and her classroom teacher (who I shared the story with later) laughing for the rest of the morning.
On an unrelated note,(ok, related in that it's me and it's about Grenada...) I started assisting with swimming lessons for some local children on Saturday. Liz's brother had approached me back in Sept. or October about helping with this venture. He had done a series of swim lessons before and wanted to start it up again. Unfortunately, he himself doesn't know how to swim but would like to help organize it. The last session ran about 8 weeks and he's hoping to do that again. He said he's fascinated by the fact that we live on an island but that most Grenadians do not know how to swim. It is not uncommon to hear about drowining deaths here. His hope is to get about 100 children through the swim lessons and then approach the ministry about incorporating it into school curriculums.
So about 4 weeks ago, he said he was ready to get it going and wanted to start at the beginning of March. I hadn't seen Francis since then but on Wednesday he dropped by the Peters and told me that he wanted to start theSaturday coming. I probed the plans a little and found out he had about 15 students wanting to learn and he had me and another man who knew how to swim lined up to help teach. Yikes! I got on the phone later that evening and called up a few other volunteers who live in the area and ended up recruiting about 5 others willing to help out. Francis picked up a group of us at my house about 8:30 and we headed north towards Bathway where the lessons would take place. First stop was at his small neighborhood grocery store to meet up with the children and the bus to bring them down. Next stop was at the River Sallee junction to pick up Katie, a volunteer from Sauteurs, then on to Bathway! When we arrived, Francis introduced me to Ja Ja(offically Kellon, but goes by Ja Ja), the other teacher. I checked in with Ja Ja about what his "plan" was for the lessons. I quickly learned that he knew about as much about teaching swimming as me--which was not much! Fortunately, a few of the other volunteers had actually taught swimming before, so we took the children in small groups into the water and did pretty informal swim tests. It turns out that most of the children were quite comfortable in the water, but neeeded guidance about how to turn their doggy paddle into actual swim strokes. Some of them also needed to learn the art of going under water or actually floating. After about an hour the kids were tired and a bit chilly (it was about 10:30am by then), so we all got out and dried off. One interesting thing I found is that a few of our students were adults--2 were teachers at local schools and Francis, the organizer, actually ended up participating in the lessons himself. It struck me that in the states there seems to be more of a separation between adult and child and egos would often discourage adults from joining in children's lessons. Not so in this case.
After swim lessons, the other volunteers and I stayed down at the beach because Peace Corps had planned a beach picnic for the new volunteers. We had a really great day, hanging out, swimming, snorkeling, eating oil down, and oh yeah, getting a nice sunburn on my back from the 8 hours in the sun and measly 2 applications of sunscreen!