Aburé Language Project
Wow! We have a lot to share about the last couple of weeks.
We were a part of an awesome short-term trip in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then we got to visit Ivory Coast to see the translation work being done in one of the French-speaking countries of Africa. It was all so amazing, but it was a whirlwind of a trip.
After lots of travel and little rest, we are finally back in Virginia for over a month as we turn our attention to developing our team of partners that will be a part of our full-time Wycliffe ministry. This trip really helped us see what our future might look like, and we are so excited to share that with all of you.
We could write a book with all the events and people that made this trip so great, but for now I just want to share one aspect of our trip that really had a big impact on us...
Our visit to the Aburé language project in Ivory Coast!
The first dive we had into the deep end of this culture was the trip out to the village of Yaou. We started by hailing a taxi outside the SIL office where we were staying. This was normal enough. The cab had a meter, but it didn’t matter. The price had already been negotiated before we even started driving. It may have been higher because we were obviously foreigners, but at least we had a local that was handling the negotiations for us.
He took us to downtown Abidjan (the wrong direction, but a necessary step). There, we caught a bus headed east toward Yaou.
The general method was, “Are any of these rides going east?”
“Yeah. Hop in this one and give me 2500 francs (about $3).”
Once the bus was completely full, we took off. But the picture I had of a bus was not the same thing that we had just climbed into. It was like a 15-passenger van that had been shrunk just a little bit then driven through a war zone. But off we went, and seemingly in the right direction!
About halfway out to the village, our local friend signaled to the driver, and we got out. There we were, standing on the side of the road with cars and buses driving all around, plus a random guy behind us taking advantage of the “bathroom,” which consisted of a couple small half-walls in the ditch. And with the language barrier, we were really not sure what the next step was. We were definitely learning to embrace the unknown.
Suddenly a car pulls up next to us and the driver honks the horn. In it is Ayite, the director of SIL Ivory Coast! The Aburé language is her heart language. She was born in the next village past Yaou, so this project is particularly close to her heart. She took a break from her day off to come with us, which was invaluable since she served as our translator. Without her, a lot of what happened next would not have made any sense!
We finally pulled up to the compound that the Aburé project was based out of. I’m not sure how long the whole trip took us...maybe 2 hours? We were learning that it didn’t really matter anyway. No one was keeping track and our meeting was scheduled to start whenever we arrived. Not much else was specified.
The building was beautiful. This translation project has been renting this space for years and uses it for translation and literacy classes. They have a vision to educate their villages to read and write their own Mother Tongue. They are preparing the people's hearts and minds to be able to read and study Scripture when it finally becomes available in their language! The different rooms in the house are used as classrooms and work spaces. There is a beautiful yard, enclosed with a wall and a guard dog out front.
We entered and joined the group of translators in the living room, and we immediately realized we had jumped into their unique culture. As soon as we arrived, everything else stopped and we all gathered around a little table on chairs and couches. The formality of this culture was both fascinating and sincere.
One of the six Mother Tongue Translators was appointed to be our spokesperson. He spoke for us, explaining who we were and why we had come, as if he had been one of us. Another translator was appointed to care for us, including bringing refreshments and keeping watch over our bags during our visit. Our spokesman told the group all about us, speaking in Aburé, while Ayité translated into English for us.
We were welcomed individually over and over, and we were taught how to respond in order to receive the welcome.
We were given a choice of drink, either water or local scotch. Everyone clinked glasses and we were welcomed again. The team was eager to tell us about their progress in translation!
We moved into the next room, where tables were set up in a U shape with men sitting around with computers. This is where the real work happens. Using a French translation of Scripture, these Mother Tongue Translators work together to translate into their language.
They have finished their initial translation of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, and 1 Corinthians! However, only Luke is nearing completion. You see, once they finish their initial translation, they sit with a Translation Consultant (my future role) and read their translated verses piece by piece. Another person (who speaks Aburé and French, but not a translator) then back-translates out loud from Aburé into French again. The Translation Consultant listens to the French back-translation and double checks it with the original Greek and Hebrew to make sure that the Aburé translation is accurate. This is called "checking" and it takes a lot of time. Many discussions about theology, culture, semantic range, and original intent happen during this time. Then, the draft is edited and checked again. It's a long process but it elevates the importance of handling the Word of God well.
So, even though the Aburé translators have done work in seven books of the Bible, the project is far from completion. This is where we feel burdened. There are some projects that have been waiting for years to be checked. These Mother Tongue Translators are motivated and working so hard to bring Scripture to their people, but they need someone to check their work.
When it was time to leave, we sat again around the small table. Through our spokesperson, we said, "If we don't leave now, it will be dark when we get home, and we would blame you because of it. Please let us leave." They responded by expressing that they wanted us to leave before we wanted to leave so that next time, we will be eager to return to them. They said, "We aren't chasing you, but you are free to leave." This was the culturally appropriate way to say goodbye. We took a group picture, shook everyone's hands, and got into Ayité's car to leave.
We hadn't known what to expect going into this day, but we were blown away by the things we saw and learned.
It was a beautiful cultural experience, and we loved being students of their culture!
We saw firsthand how important it will be that we are fluent in French. We are even more highly motivated to learn now!
Our biggest takeaway: The need there is great. At one point we shared that we were praying to know where exactly God wants us to serve once our training is complete. The leader of the translation project said, "Your place is here. God has been clear." Many people thanked God when they met us because He had answered their prayers in bringing us to Côte d'Ivoire.