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A cross-cultural tale:
Peace Corps fiction
by Terry Marshall

Mosquito netting covers a sleeping mat

From an un-cited source.

This billowing mosquito net gives an idea of Cooper's sleeping quarters.

In isolated Betumo village, the diplomat Cooper cleverly quashes the scandal caused by the young American, Derrick, and his city-bred Pijin teacher, the captivating Esme Soporo. But Esme can be relentless. Now, Cooper finds himself at risk.

An Excerpt from the Story

Esme Soporo marched into the clearing with her shoulders back, bare feet skimming the red earth. Two twisty pigtails, each ringed with scarlet hibiscus, poked up like devilish horns from a wild bush of black hair. High cheekbones. Flawless skin – not as black as the women of Rendova; more a burnt umber. But clearly not a typical Solomon Islander, not with sunglasses, wristwatch, and that skin-tight "Free Willy" t-shirt.

"You're Mr. Cooper, yes? Welcome to Betumo Village." She curtsied, then offered her hand. She had a stevedore's grip. "You like my t-shirt?"

Cooper felt his face redden. He glanced away.

"A Piskoa guy gave me it." She twirled, short skirt flaring, and the scent of some exotic perfume swirled over him. Another city-bred fancy. No wonder she had the kid zinging.

"Isn't it a bit out of place in an SDA village?"

She grinned. "It's a modern. The village men praise it. Even Chief Betu."

Cooper imagined her with young Derrick on that beach, lips inviting, voice cooing. Her come-hither would thaw an embassy Marine. Cooper envied the Peace Corps kid his youth. But that's the problem: youth. Village life served up a solitude these kids had never faced. Without the American smorgasbord of daily diversions - TV, CDs, computers, magazines, concerts, malls, sporting events - village life suffocated them. They had to learn to sit and talk, one-on-one, day after day. Like the Graces, Solomons women reeled the young Americans in - not only with their dark beauty, but with their eagerness to listen. This wasn't going to be cut and dried as Cooper first thought. "I need to ask some questions, Miss, about -"

"Of that dance, it's a nothing. We met at the cove, a dozen or so, including also two other women teachers. Only we teachers and village boys, no waetmen. We storied, and drank Pepsi-Cola. We danced to a cassette-player, each apart and without touching man-to-woman. It's in the limbo that jealousy arose, for I bested all, even the men. I'm an excellent dancer. Watch." She sprang up, and the packed-earth clearing became a polished dance floor. She coiled, leaped and arched, her supple body glistening. . . .

Language Note on Pijin
It's not "Baby-talk"

One of the most enjoyable aspects of learning a language is seeing how different cultures borrow from one another as they put words together, especially in a pidgin language, such as Solomon Islands Pijin. Pidgin languages typically grow out of and draw upon the intersection of two different languages (and their associated cultures) to meet the needs of commerce and communication. Pidgin languages are typically not spoken as a first language by either group; if the people who speak a pidgin eventually adopt is as the primary language in that locale, it is usually described as a creole language.

Several Solomon Islands Pijin words appear in "Whispers" and other stories in this series, and we usually translate them immediately after they appear. For those interested in language, we encourage you to say the words out loud - they will sound more familiar to your ear than they look to your eye. For example, try:

  • waetman (pronounced wite-mahn) for white person
  • longwe lelebet, from the English words, long way, little bit, meaning still kind of far
  • rabis gele (pronounced rubiss ghele) from rubbish girl, meaning slut
  • Piskoa (pronounced peace-koah) for the obvious Peace Corps.
Recognizing these more or less familiar words and sounds is like finding a shiny silver dollar in the grass - it creates a delightful, and irrational, sense of accomplishment. It is irrational because words, concepts, and pronunciations morph over time. We encourage you to partake in the joy of discovery of the meaning of these words and to exercise caution in believing you now understand them.

"Whispers" was first published in Confluence, Vol. 16 (published by the Ohio Valley Literary Group and Marietta College).

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