The Fish that Didn’t Grow on Trees

This afternoon (February 7th) I had just sat down to study when some friends came to my door.  “We’re going fishing,” they said.  One of the many tricky aspects of the Neno language is that they have two different words for “we” – “exclusive we” and “inclusive we”.  I still don’t understand the proper usages very well. 

When someone comes to my house to tell me what they are about to do, it often seems to be an indirect way of inviting me, or at least checking to see if I want to be involved in whatever activity is about to transpire.  The confusing part is, if that’s the case, why do they use the exclusive we?  In my little brain, that seems to exclude me, although circumstantial evidence indicates that they are actually trying to include me.  Someday I will understand this linguistic phenomenon.

If you happen to speak a language that uses exclusive and inclusive forms of we and would be willing to enlighten me, please leave a comment below, no matter how many paragraphs it takes to explain.  I would love you forever. 

Returning to today’s story…

Since I wasn’t sure if they were inviting me, I replied, “Go ahead!”  (Sounds like a strange thing to say, but that is the normal response when someone tells you they are going somewhere). 

Then one of the teen girls, with what appeared to be a concerned look, proving that it really had been an invitation, asked, “Are you going?”  “Are you?” I replied.  (She wasn’t the one who had said “We’re going fishing” so I wasn’t positive if she was part of the “exclusive group”).  To her “yes”, I responded, “Okay, let me just change clothes quick.”

And off we trekked – out of the village, on the path leading to the river, past the place where we cross to go to the city, and down a jungle path.  Despite being rather exhausted that afternoon, I was excited to finally be part of a Neno fishing expedition.  Once I went to a creek to catch tiny little fish with some of the children, which was fun, but didn’t count as a real fishing trip. 

As we hiked along, I started imagining how delicious fried fish would taste for supper.  Observing the group, which included two couples and all their children and grandchild, revealed that their “fishing equipment” was a bit surprising.  Most of the ladies and girls carried large baskets.  They must have been very optimistic about the results of this fishing expedition.  Either that or they were expecting Jesus to be waiting at the river to tell us exactly where to cast our nets, or poles, or whatever tools the Neno use.  Come to think of it, the only thing I saw that could possibly be used for killing fish was the gun one of the men carried.  Another man carried a chainsaw.  Strange, but I assumed I would learn the reason eventually.  Maybe they were planning to cut some firewood on the way back.  The Neno often multi-task on their expeditions, doing various activities that are outside of the stated original purpose. 

After about fifteen minutes of walking near the river, we stopped.  All of us ladies and children stood or sat on the path, swatting bugs, while the men went off into the trees, on the side further from the river.  The noise of the chainsaw broke through the peacefulness of the jungle.  Many amazing things occur in the Amazon jungle…but is it possible that fish grow on trees?  Truly mystified, I asked what the men were doing.

“Bullyrapay kata.”   (cutting a certain type of fruit)

That’s when the lightbulb started to flicker and finally turn on in the dark room which is my linguistically-confused brain.  Was it possible that the purpose of our hike was not fishing at all?

Maybe when I was “invited”, the phrase used was not,

“Bullyway iggi toonka”, but

“Bullyrapay iggi toonka.”

The two words in question are only slightly similar and I learned them weeks ago.  As far as their meanings, it is rather difficult to confuse a fish with a fruit that grows in a long pod on a tree.  Nevertheless, hearing a word by itself is easier than hearing words in a phrase and interpreting it correctly as a whole.  Also, perhaps my eagerness to participate in the cultural event of a fishing expedition, tricked my ears into hearing what they wanted to hear.  Either that, or we were gathering fruit on the way to the fishing site.  As my dad always said, “Never give up on a fishing expedition, unless you can get stuck in the snow instead, because that’s more exciting.”  (Okay, my dad never actually said that, but it sounds like something he would say if he was there).

As it turned out, we were on a fruit-gathering expedition the whole time.  That was a bit of a letdown for someone hoping for fish, but also a letdown to everyone hoping for fruit, because it turns out the “bullyrapay” wasn’t even ripe yet. 

One of the men did shoot four birds though (Notice the multi-tasking and planning ahead?  He certainly hadn’t brought the gun along for shooting fruit!), so at least his wife and children and grandson each had a few bites of meat for supper.

And I learned an important lesson.  Don’t count your fish before they’re catched, especially if people are carrying chainsaws and baskets instead of fishing poles and nets. 

My supper menu turned out to be popcorn and a carrot.  Maybe not as exciting as fried fish or tropical fruit, yet very delicious and satisfying, nonetheless. 

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