I wish I didn’t know so much French. The truth is, I know very little, but it’s just enough to get in the way of learning local languages here.
Among the core reasons we choose this lifestyle is not a desire to separate, but to connect: to continuously learn and expand our experience in the world through our interactions. To communicate with people we meet, in their language instead of ours, is an important part of that… showing interest, effort, and friendliness in one fell swoop.
When we reached the Marquesas, after seeing faces crack into broad grins at the feeblest attempt at learning the truly local language, I was committed to picking up more.
Hoe… piti… toru… maha… pae. I count to myself, willing the numbers to memory. Flash cards are dog eared and a little grubby from rolling around in my bag with other day trip essentials.
It complicated things only slightly that we have no meaningful phrase books for Marquesan and Tahitian, only the sometimes odd collection of words inour guidebooks. I know enough French to ask how to say something- coupled with occasional miming, it’s enough.
Ono… hitu… vau… iva… ahuru. Six… seven… eight… nine… ten. My teachers have been numerous. They began with the service station attendant at our landfall of Hiva Oa; a polyglot who spoke multiple Polynesian languages in addition to French and some English. Among those to follow were a beachfront resident in Anaho, the children we met on Makemo, the drivers of rides I hitched in Raiatea, and women at various produce stands and shops.
Ahuru ma hoe.. ahuru ma piti. The smile and response in kind are gifts. More than enough to sustain me through card flipping, even for just a few weeks of functional use.
What other way can I easily bring warmth and friendship to people who have so repeatedly shown it to us? From the fishermen who hand us some of their catch, refusing anything in return, to random encounters with people who send us along our way with fruit or flowers?
It’s the least I can do.