I have been speaking Portuguese for three weeks now and have recently discovered something wonderful. Many Portuguese words, whether through design or through a happy accident, are onomatopoetic. At least, I perceive them to be that way.
When rain falls on a ceiling, it says “tay-too, tay-too, tay-too” – ceiling, ceiling. Water sloshing around a 20 gallon jug says “ba-dong, ba-dong” – water jug, water jug.
Other words that are better in Mozambican Portuguese include:
Pao - (POW) - Bread
Mamas - (MAAH-Muhs) - Breasts
Sabor - (Sah-BORRR) - Flavor
Pipocas - (Pee-PO-Cahsh) - Popcorn
Oito - (Wheat-O) - Eight
Machim-Boom-Boo - (Mash-IM-Bomb-Boo) - Auto Bus
Brincar - (Brink-AR) - To Play
Escolinha - (Esh-Co-LEEN-Yuh) - Little School
Criancas - (Cree-YAWN-Suhs) - Toddler or “Little Critter Person”
Note: This is a “galimoto” or a “TOY TRUCK ON A STICK.”
It is made of garbage. It is the best toy ever.
Another good word would be-
Camiao - (Cam-Ee-YOW) - 18-Wheeler
Think of the little boys running along the street with their trucks on a stick, wailing like an ambulance, “Cam – ee – YOW – YOW – YOW – YOW!”
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Lessons today started with a discussion about the differences between life in Mozambique and life in America. One girl pointed out the unsanitary conditions in which the baby of her adopted family frequently found himself.
“He, like, picks up a toy off the floor and just sucks on it!”
Another girl spoke up.
“The kids in my household always have runny noses and, like, stuff on their faces.”
In defense of the people of Mozambique, I felt insulted. Sometimes, we are so busy searching for differences in our new culture that we miss the similarities that might bring us together. Babies, all over the world and in the United States, are dirty little critters. They eat dirt, they eat bugs. They put their fingers in their bottom and transfer pinworms from one end of their digestive system to the other. Babies are on a mission to expose themselves to every potential disease known to mankind. It is a mechanism of survival.
Before I came here, I worked with toddlers at a YMCA in Pennsylvania. These babies had runny noses, crusty eyes, sticky fingers, and smelly pants. Like the babies here, they were also delightful and very huggable.
It is also important to note that parents love their children just as much in Africa as they do in the United States. For a short while, my Mae had hired a maid to help take care of Dan and I upon our arrival. This woman had a baby that she would carry on her back for most of the day. The baby’s name was Marcos. Because the maid’s name was difficult to pronounce, we called her “Mae do Marcos” (My – Doo – Mar – Coash). When she wasn’t carrying Marcos, she would leave him on a straw mat with a toy rattle.
“Marcos, Marcos,” she would coo. “Meu bebe.”
When Marcos developed a bad cough, Mae do Marcos took him to the hospital. Even though she was busy, she always washed him, wrapped him, and took his temperature. She was nineteen years old, and a wonderful mother.
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I’ll leave you with one last word that’s better in Portuguese than in English-
Picture a triple-toothed crianca staring at you as you walk down the street. “Ola,” he replies softly in response to your greeting. Then, as you disappear, he gains confidence, flapping his sloppy fingers.
“Tchau – Tchau!”
Then, you hear him start an imaginary engine and run in the other direction, pushing his toy truck.
“Cam – ee – YOW – YOW – YOW – YOW!”
Because young children, everywhere, are exactly the same.