A few years back, while teaching on the island of Ebeye, I encountered a problem with words. It started while reading Encyclopedia Brown with my 5th graders.
"Then Encyclopedia and... and..." the little girl stopped.
"Phoebe," I suggested.
"... and" then she dropped her voice down to a whisper, "Phoebe followed the trail.
Popcorn Manty." She let out a sigh of relief and relaxed back into her chair.
It was Manty's turn to read, but he just looked at the book for a moment. Finally he read, "Fo-ay-bee and Encyclopedia..."
"Phoebe, it's Phoebe."
"Um, ok... 'she picked up her magnifying glass and looked down at the ground.' Popcorn Bokjuwa." Another sigh of relief, another body relaxing into a wooden chair.
Man, I thought, what is with these kids today? You would think that after me telling them it is Phoebe for the fifteenth time, they would get it.
But no, Bokjuwa had the same problem. Except hers was pronounced like Foo-bay.
"Guys, it's Fee-bee. FEE-BEE. Say it with me."
And then a hand shot up. "Miss?" Pamela called out, "Um, that name, that word, um..." She hesitated for a minute and then blurted it out, "In our language it means, you know, a girl's..." Then she glanced down at her crotch.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Don't name your daughter Phoebe if there is any chance she may live in the Marshall Islands some day.
It wasn't long after that my roommate and I were making some couscous for dinner. A neighbor girl, originally from the island of Pohnpei, was doing her homework at out table. Lisa and I kept talking, but every time we said "couscous" Dixie started to giggle. Finally, I asked her what was up.
"Oh Miss! Couscous," giggle giggle, "it means something kind of bad in my language." And then she giggled some more.
So, couscous. What does it mean in Pohnpeian? Like she said, something 'kind of bad'. Not anything I can repeat here, being family-friendly and all. I will let your imaginations run with that one. But let's just say that every time I cook couscous, I giggle.
But dinner tonight? No giggling needed. Straight-up good. Good for you, good tasting, and good on the wallet. Tilapia with bell pepper and some parsley spiked couscous.
Recipe from Everyday with Rachael Ray, March 2011