Indonesian is Hard to Learn II

The boys’ dance class is currently learning to dance like demons for Ramayana ballet performance. This is gagah1-style dance. While it’s nice to jump around, this type of dance remains rather uninteresting to me. It feels unrefined, which is mainly my fault for not being good enough to imbue it with any real technique. However, during the breaks when everyone collapses panting on the floor, I’ve managed to convince the boys’ dance teacher to walk me through some of the basics of alus dance. This is the sort of dancing that Rama and Lakshmana do, and much closer to the girls’ dancing that I’m already learning—slow and all about bending your knees as much as possible.

Which is where we ran into problems. Back in high school, years of ballet in a body not quite meant for ballet dancing finally caught up with me and I managed to injure my leg. There was one particularly unfortunate December when I kept an ice pack backstage during Nutcracker and iced my leg any time I wasn’t onstage. I’ve gotten better since then. Physical therapy helped and I now know how to manage my leg. It will, however, never be completely better again and it still acts up if I do the wrong thing. Like force my legs to turn out as much as possible while pliéing2 as much as possible.

This is exactly what’s called for in boys’ dancing. After an excruciating five minutes of my dance teacher’s pushing down on my shoulders and giving me instructions about my feet, I realized two things: one, I was going to have to find my ACE bandage and bring it to class from now on and two, he and I were going to have to have a discussion about my leg.

Easier said than done. In English, I would just say, “I have an injury,” and that would pretty much sum it up. In Indonesian, though, I wasn’t sure where to start. First of all, the words for pain and sickness are the same3. Contextually, though, it would be obvious that I was talking about pain. Except that my leg didn’t actually hurt. It’s never actually hurt, just felt really wrong because all the nerves are getting overcrowded by the muscle that’s getting all pushed about inside its fascia casing. Besides, if I said the word sakit, it would sound like I was saying I hurt right in the moment, like, “My legs have been bent too long and so my quads hurt.” Though true, this is the kind of pain you work through and not the kind of pain I was trying to talk about.

I then considered the word for would4. However, luka, it seemed to me, meant a wound that was gushing blood. Obviously not the case.

Ultimately, as so often happens, I ended up giving a long, confusing explanation. My dance teacher got it in the end and immediately backed off, which made me think that I made the whole thing sound a little more serious than it actually is. Anyway, at least he eventually understood.

I later took this problem to my Indonesian friend with the amazing English. This led to a series of notes on my phone that I will reproduce here for your reading pleasure:

Kakiku Kambuh
Ngilu
Scratch lecet bruise memar bengkak swollen bruise
5

Kambuh, it turns out, is an adjective that you can use for when sickness or pain comes back. For example, if you broke a bone and it still aches when the weather gets cold, you can say that it’s kambuh. As far as I could ascertain, it’s not really used to modify the pain itself, as evidenced by the example above.

This then led into a discussion of Javanese and how there are lots of different words to talk about different kinds of pain. My friend was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to explain further. Suffice to say, it’s complicated.

We wrapped up the conversation with a quick overview of bruises, establishing that black eyes apply only to bruises around your eye and not other places on your face. She also described some other sort of wound (see swollen bruise) as when your skin turns red. I still don’t really understand—I first thought she was talking about a bruise—but she clarified that it’s what happens when you twist your ankle.

So there you have it. My Indonesian continues to limp bruisedly along while my Javanese wanders behind, unsure how to describe its feelings.

1Meaning strong, according to a paper I recently read.
2Bending the knees.
3Sakit.
4Luka.
5No guarantees on proper spelling.

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