How I learned a language in 22 hours
"What do you know about where I come from?" That was one of the first questions I ever asked Bosco Mongousso, an Mbendjele pygmy who lives in the sparsely populated Ndoki forest at the far northern tip of the Republic of Congo. We were sitting on logs around a fire one evening four years ago, eating a dinner of smoked river fish and koko, a vitamin-rich wild green harvested from the forest. Mongousso, who makes his living, for the most part, by hunting wildlife and gathering forest produce such as nuts, fruits, mushrooms and leaves, had teeth that had been chiselled to sharp points as a child. "I don't know. "Have you ever heard of the United States of America?" He shook his head. I didn't know where to begin. "What did he say?" "He wanted to know, 'What's the ocean?'" As part of my research, I had begun planning a series of logistically complicated trips that would take me back to the same remote region where I had met Mongousso. I have never been particularly good with languages.
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