In Wales, there are two worlds. The English speaking world that you see on the surface and the magical, Welsh speaking world, of Cymru Cymraeg, that lies beneath. Once-upon-a-time, Cymraeg was the dominant language in Wales. It infused every element of Welsh life and culture. Now it is possible to be born, raised and to live in Wales, without entering its realm. This week, during my Saysomethinginwelsh bootcamp, I somehow found my way into this magical, world.
Yesterday it was hard… so hard to leave.
I hadn't met any of my fellow bootcampers prior to our week long holiday in Tresaith. We had all followed the same Welsh course and participated, to varying degrees, in the learners forum, but we were essentially strangers, defined by forum posts, stamp-sized web photos and a common desire to take our language skills to the next level – to experience a week immersed in the Welsh language.
I caught the train from Moreton in the Marsh and arranged a lift with one of my fellow bootcampers from Aberystwyth (yes, I know, a lift with strangers I'd met online). Once we'd settled into the Canolfan, the rules and format of the week were explained. Dictionaries were not encouraged, we were told, nor were sentences like: beth yw y gair am sausage? Miming and talking around the unknown word was the preferred method of communication. For example, if you didn't know the word for sausage you might say: cig sy'n mewn croen hir – meat that is in a long skin while miming the shape of a sausage with your hands. Inevitably, another learner would know the word. If not our Welsh language hosts would provide it.
Once the guidelines had been established we were asked to go around the room and convey interesting things about ourselves to each other using only mime. This was hilarious and, as you can imagine quite difficult. At the end of the fifteen minutes, it was a relief to start talking in Welsh.
After the initial, enforced silence, the chatter didn't didn't stop. We did all the activities that any group of friends might do on a holiday. We rose late-ish (me latest). Had breakfast, visited, towns, castles, museums, villages and restaurants, went on walks, took photos, got lost, browsed in book shops, shared meal preparations, misunderstood directions, got lost, went to the pub, stayed up late, laughed, talked, sang beneath the stars, all under the banner of the Welsh language. I'm not going to give you a blow by blow description of the week. I couldn't. You had to be there to experience the wonder. But here are some of my personal highlights.
Walking through the wonderful Welsh countryside
Making castles on the beach
Laughing at my mistakes
Visiting a water operated woollen mill
Doing a drama session in Welsh
Laughing like a school girl
Realising I understood what that was being said
Laughing even more
Doing a tour of Castell Aberteifi
Hearing about the first Welsh Eisteddfod
Having a lesson in a cwrgl
Realising I understood everything the teacher was saying
I repeat: everything while turning hopeless circles in a cwrgl
Swimming in the Irish Sea
Making jokes in Welsh
Til I feared my sides would split
Thinking in Welsh
Realising I was thinking in Welsh
Telling my friends
Knowing they understood
Wishing the week would never end