Sharp Nails

Inok and Ere

Inok carrying his son Ere

During yesterday’s language learning session, Inok (Enoch) said something indiscernible to me. He tented his fingers when he said it. We were talking about the roof of a house. About all I heard in it was “sap nil.” (‘Sap nil’ is pronounced almost like “sop neel”.)

Sap nil?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and then said some more things in his language, Gadsup.

I was floundering. He just said what I thought was a full sentence, and I didn’t understand a word of it. But then I realized that “sap nil” was Pidgin. Okay, that was a step forward.

Inok is a patient language instructor. I hadn’t said anything while I was thinking, and he must have saw a blank look on my face. He tried again. He said something and “sap nil.”

I knew ‘sap’ literally means “sharp” in Pidgin, and ‘nil’ means “nail” or “nails,” but was he talking about nails, or was he talking about the poles they use for rafters? I said in Pidgin, “In America, we use nails for walls and for roofs. Do you use them for the roofs, too?”

Inok nodded. They plainly use nails in their houses. He tried again. He said something in Gadsup and ‘sap nil’.

I still didn’t understand. “Mi no klia long ‘sap nil’ yet,” I said, “I’m not clear about ‘sap nil’ yet.”

Now Inok understood why I was struggling. “We take the poles and sharpen the ends,” he said in Pidgin. He made a motion with his hands that looked like sharpening a stick with a knife. So ‘sap nil’ meant the poles used as rafters, not nails.

Inok’s young son Ere, who is around three or four, distracted me then. I don’t remember if that was the time the child took off his dad’s cap and playfully hit his dad’s head with it, or the time he dropped bits of the styrofoam cup he had dug out of the trash onto the rug, or the time he tried to write on the wall with a pen he found. I never did learn the Gadsup word for ‘sap nil’. But I did learn what ‘sap nil’ meant in Pidgin.

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