After thirteen days in Bangladesh, I left by no means fluent in Bangla—but I'm proud of having picked up some strategic, key vocabulary!
Here's a list of the words and phrases I learned during my stay, and explanations for how they came up and/or why I had to know them to get by (attempted in order):
Assalamualaikum (আসসালামু আলাইকুম) - Hello
My greeting to the world! Hello, world! (I was secretly super proud of already knowing this one before arriving- Arabic school finally coming in handy.)
Kêmon achhen? (কেমন আছেন?) - How are you?
Bristee (my friend from high school who invited me on this trip) taught me the basics of polite conversation while on the second ferry during the trip from Dhaka to the village. I didn't use it much, because if people responded in any word(s) other than "good" I had no idea what they were saying. My favorite memory of asking "Kêmon achhen?" with a huge smile took place at Pabi's* house, when Chōṭa Māmā had just met his potential future wife and I wanted to join everyone else in teasing him (they laughed).
* see below for explanations of people
Bhalo (ভালো) - Good
Again, I was only taught how to say "good" whenever people asked me "Kêmon achhen?" so that was my go-to answer. (But luckily I only really needed this one during the trip!)
Āmi (আমি) - I
Me, me, me!
Tumi (?) - You
I often used this as a question: "Tumi?" with a gesture toward someone (Do you want?), "Tumi?" pointing at something underfoot (Is this yours?), "Tumi?" shrugging my shoulders and raising my eyebrows (Do you understand?), etc. Quite multifunctional!
Jie (জি) - Yes
Sometimes I said this to be polite when people were talking to me in Bengali and I wasn't really following.
Nā (না) - No
I learned to add this to the end of verbs! And mostly in response to the requests of the younger girls, e.g. "Ami nāca nā" (I no dance).
Dhonnobad (ধন্যবাদ) - Thank you
MVP word right here, since I was 100% dependent and could do nothing by myself. I also found myself using it liberally with the aunts and uncles, since none of them spoke any English and I really wanted them to know how much I appreciated their care.
Nam ki? (নাম কি?) - Name?
Definitely wasn't crushing the grammar game with this one. But it definitely came in handy when I wasn't sure what I was eating. Or when I wanted to learn a new noun!
Boozini (fittingly: ?) - I don't understand
There seemed to be a ton of different ways to say this, and I never really figured out if it was "boozini" or "boojini" (with a soft j). Either I was saying "I don't understand" or not making sense anyways, so people usually got the message.
Phala (ফল) - Fruit
"Fruit" and "flower" kind of go together in my head because Maia invented a vocabulary quiz for me in Bangla that we would practice in front of the aunts and uncles to show them she was teaching me. It was composed of exactly four words, which she would say in English and I would answer with their Bengali equivalents: "I" ("ami"), "you" ("tumi"), fruit ("phala"), flower ("phula"). I think I actually learned the word first walking through the bamboo forest by the pond (which Bristee's grandfather dug out himself many years ago! And has since gone neglected) behind our house with Nanna, as he pointed out all the different fruit trees (coconut, grapefruit, jackfruit, starfruit, lychee, banana, and some I didn't recognize). My favorite fruit memory is of sending Jooey up to the roof to knock down grapefruit with a bamboo pole one afternoon, and Shakil, Nanna, and Pabi peeling the meat from the skin and preparing it with spicy green pepper and parsley in banana leaves pulled from the backyard. If you want a spicy drink, you can sip from the bottom of the banana leaf cone, and otherwise enjoy the spicy-bitter-sweet fruit from the top! (I had a lot of trouble with these peppers.)
Phula (ফুল) - Flower
See above! I first learned this one while exploring the village with Bristee, Maia, and Jooey (see left), though my favorite flower memory is of my first ever surprise birthday party. I was sitting with Bristee in the pink room, and all of a sudden some cousins came in and Bristee explained that Rafa made a decoration and wanted me to see it. I didn't think much of it, because we had literally spent DAYS wrapping things and decorating gifts and platters and so decorating anything for any reason ever seemed natural. I let Shamim blindfold me and Bristee led me by the hand to the room we shared with Maia, Rafa, their mom (Chōṭa Kālā), and another auntie. Once I stepped in, Shamim removed my blindfold with a flourish and Chōṭa Kālā (with a cake in her lap!) and all the cousins were there and started singing "Happy Birthday"! I was SHOCKED! Maia and Rafa had indeed taped flowers leftover from the earlier ceremonies up on the walls, and they and Jooey threw petals at me as I stared in shock and struggled to express my gratitude. I was so moved. I couldn't even properly speak or show respect to most people there, yet they not only welcomed me into their home and FAMILY and made sure I ate, but also made sure my birthday was recognized in the midst of so many bigger events. It was a really beautiful moment I don't think I'll ever forget! So "phula" will always hold special meaning that so beautifully transcends just "flower."
Ekṭu (একটু) - A little
Used to tell the māmīs and kalas how much food I wanted (JUST A LITTLE!). Also when I wanted to show off if someone asked Bristee if I spoke Bengali.
Ekta (একটি) - One
Similar food-related context as ektu (see above).
Khaabu nā - I do not eat.
Next step after ektu and ekta.
Khaaba? - Eat?
Usually to ask Pabi if she had eaten yet and to try to feed her a bite. Now being back at home, I really miss the practice of being able to show care by feeding other people or receiving care by being fed. Since we ate with our right hands, it also felt a lot more intimate (in a not-weird way) and meaningful to place a piece of egg or a bite of something sweet directly into a loved one's mouth. Much more humane than stabbing things with a fork (though not quite as elegant as chopsticks, which I maintain are the most graceful eating utensil).
Basha - House
Mostly to announce to everyone else in the vans that we were home (aka show off that I know words because they could all see the house from the dirt road, too).
Maatcha - Baby
During the second leg of our airborne journey (Instanbul -> Dhaka), Bristee and I decided our primary goal for the trip was to find a baby goat. Hence, maatcha! I like the word especially because it reminds me of matcha tea.
Chāgala (ছাগ) - Goat
Sadly, I used this most often because we were a) slaughtering one, b) roasting its flesh over a fire, or c) eating it at dinner, as opposed to Bristee and I fawning over a baby one. BUT we achieved our goal and petted a neighbor's "maatcha chāgala" during our first full day at the village!
Garu (গরু) - Cow
My favorite food throughout the trip. Also my favorite animal to catch sight of by the side of the road, or at Borro Māmā's house (he had cows, chickens, ducklings, and one really mean bird that would fly at everyone and peck everything within reach). My favorite "garu" dish was at the last engagement ceremony, when our side (the groom's side) of the family hosted a reception ft. a menu of the typical rice and other dishes, plus PHENOMENAL, tender beef in a pleasantly spicy masala.
Hāti (হাতি) - Elephant
Learned after seeing an elephant casually chilling outside a carnival near the village. Usually used in conjunction with "muta" to call the boy cousins "fat elephants" (one of my two precious insults).
Muta - Fat
A cousin told me to call another cousin this without telling me the meaning, which naturally I did not because he was so giggly and clearly being mischievous. But I always kept it in my back pocket and whipped it out (once I asked Bristee the meaning) when the time was right.
The other insult. I said this accidentally one day when trying to say that I like the maggi*** noodles (which are delicious) and everyone laughed.
** soft g
*** hard g
Sundara (সুন্দর) - Pretty
Applied to the younger girls and Pabi in particular, or anyone's clothing, makeup, jewelry, belongings, etc. I think this word single-handedly helped me make a lot of friends.
Miṣṭi (মিষ্টি) - Sweet
MMMMMMM!! As someone with a perpetual, relentless sweet tooth, I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of miṣṭi throughout the festivities. The word can be used as the equivalent of both "sweet" (the adjective) and "sweets" (the desserts/noun) in English. So it basically counts as two separate vocabulary words...if we're counting.
Mēhēdi (মেহেদি) - Henna
Jooey did the henna for Bristee and I (see left), referring to a scrap of paper with sample designs. I had no idea it took so long to dry, and ended up battling jet-lg to stay awake waiting for it to sink in. Then naturally I slept with my arm pressed against my cheek and the mēhēdi ended up being printed on my face as well.
Āmi pachanda kari (আমি পছন্দ করি) - I like
I liked EVERYTHING! One of my most-said phrases, again mostly to express appreciation and thanks in one of the only ways I could.
-ke - suffix to make something a direct object in above "I like" statement
Generally when I wanted to say I like someone, e.g. "I like Maia" -> "Āmi Maia-ke pachanda kari." But I think I originally learned it to say that I like an object (probably the proper usage), e.g. "Āmi miṣṭi-ke pachanda kari" (I like sweets).
Dēkhā (দেখা) - To watch
Since this was one of my only verbs, I used it whenever I could, which ended up making me sound omnipresent and kind of scary as I told everyone regularly that I was watching them (and everyone else).
Nāca (নাচ) - To dance
Jooey and Maia LOVED to show off their dance skills, particularly to the song "Super Girl in China" (which we must have heard at least a hundred times over the course of my short visit). They often asked me to dance, to which I usually responded "Nā" except for the night before I left, when we all had a blast despite my lack of dancing abilities in their style. This word also played a key role in one of the longest (yet most likely grammatically incorrect) sentences I learned: "I like to watch Maia and Jooey dance" -> "Āmi Maia-ke (and) Jooey-ke pachanda kari dēkhā nāca." Which also sounds kind of creepy but they took it as the highest of compliments!
Gerua (?) - A shade of orange/red/pink, but more importantly (and romantically), the color of LOVE
The most romantic word I know, as well as my favorite song! And I have a note saved on phone of forty Bengali/Hindi songs I left obsessed with, so that's saying something. According to Aakash's explanation and an article I just found off Google, the color "gerua" is associated with people who have abandoned society (e.g. hermits) in search of something or someone. In this song, "gerua" symbolizes the desire to leave the world behind to exist simply in love, and to be "colored in the color of love."
* Explanations of people! More words that have less explanation and meaning unless you know them:
Amu (?) - Mom
Dādī (দাদী) - Father's mother
Didimā (দিদিমা) - Mother's mother
Māmā (মামা) - Mother's brother
There are four of these.
Māmī (মামী) - Mother's brother's wife
Three of these—one Māmā (the youngest) isn't married, though on the last day of my stay we paid a visit to a woman who could become our future Māmī!
Kālā (?) - Mother's sister
Also four of these! The youngest Kālā ("Chōṭa Kālā") and her two daughters, Maia and Rafa, shared a bed with Bristee (my friend from home whose family this actually is) and I, so we got to know each other reaaaal quick.
Kālī (?) - Mother's sister's husband
Four, one for each Kālā, though one temporarily peaced out to work in Qatar.
Apu (?) - Older sister
When the younger cousins call you this ("Michelle-Apu!"), your heart will absolutely MELT. It suggests respect and endearment. In the words of Shamim, by including any of the terms for sister or brother after a name, it is a way of "sharing the love."
Bhaiyya (?) - Brother
I had trouble with this word (especially when combined with borro, for "oldest brother") because to my American ears, the first letter sounds like it could quite possible be either a "p" or a "b" sound depending on who says it and when.
Borro (?) - Eldest
Solely used to refer to the oldest cousin as "Borro Bhaiyya," which slurred together just becomes really hard to pronounce.
Chōṭa (ছোট) - Younger/Youngest
Pabi (?) - Sister-in-law
This word was really just a person to me...Anamika (the bride)!
And that about sums up the extent of my Bangla vocab! I have trouble doing the significance of this experience justice in writing, but it seems fitting to share my relationships and experiences with Bristee's family and Bangladesh itself through the lens of its language.
Salaam (goodbye) for now!