Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dancing in Swahili & Random Observations- 12/5/2009

December 5, 2009

Dancing in Swahili

In October we had a great 2-week preparation for language-learning called PILAT at the Mission Training International facility in Palmer Lake, Colorado. While there Alene wrote a beautiful analogy between learning a language and learning to dance. The goal in learning a language is to flow and “dance” with it and enjoy your connection with other partners and enjoy the nuances of language and culture that enter into your own spirit as you truly appreciate the “music” of the language. Nevertheless, the first phase is to learn the “steps of the dance.” We are learning those steps now and still are looking at our feet and counting the beat, but we can observe a better flow with each passing week and we look forward to ever smoother “dancing in Swahili” each week. (Another analogy is that our language-learning at times is like a very slow computer. Much information has been placed on our mental “hard-drives,” but the download is often rather slow.)

Learning Swahili truly is our full-time job now. We have completed one month and our intense language studies continue until February. Steve will then commence his hospital duties and Alene will be available for her mission work at that time as well. We are truly blessed to have Daniel as our teacher here at Tenwek. (We and everyone else at Tenwek just call him “mwalimu,” which means teacher.) Every weekday straight from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. the two of us have private Swahili language tutoring. In the afternoon and evening we have 2 to 3 hours of homework and study. Time for devotion and prayer is included with each class session and our instruction extends far beyond language per se to nuances of Kenyan culture and history. (As one example, yesterday we started with the Swahili word for “love” and discussed how Kenyan husbands and wives view and express their love for one another.) Daniel uses many techniques to help us in our language-learning. Besides listening, speaking, and writing in class we often sing in Swahili, get up and move around the classroom and walk around on the roads and speak with others, such as shopkeepers. It is a blessing that each of us are learning together and can practice together. We are frequently reminded of the directive from PILAT in Colorado: “To learn a language you have to make a million mistakes, so get started now!”

We are also blessed to have Pastor Wesley help us each week with Swahili language drills and to have a neighbor and house-helper, Carol, who is very patient and speaks Swahili very well. It will be great to have these ongoing resources to build upon the language foundation being constructed during these first 3 months.

You might ask: “What is it like to learn Swahili?” Even the word “mwalimu” for “teacher” and the word “mwanaume” for “man” seemed intimidating at first and there still are some “new” letter combinations for our mouths to pronounce, but thankfully Swahili uses our same Roman alphabet (without Q and X) and no letters are “silent” and each letter is pronounced the same way each time. (We have great sympathy for those learning English as a second language.) However, the Swahili language does present its own challenges. You probably are aware that some languages have different “classes” of nouns, like masculine, feminine, and neuter. Well, in Swahili there are 8 noun classes!!! With each noun class there are different rules for handling the singular and plural forms and for handling adjectives and connections with other nouns and how to refer to them as “he/she/they/it/these/those/that.” Some of the noun classes are predictable: “M/Wa Class” refers to living things that can move on their own (people and animals, but not plants); “Pa” class is for places; “Ku” class is for verbs used as nouns (like “speaking”); and most foreign words like “apartmenti” (for “apartment”) are in the “N class.” However, for many words we just have to learn and remember the proper designation. So, we have many words (probably 20+ news ones each day) and many grammatical rules “swimming around” in our heads and at times we need to be encouraged to forge ahead in communicating and not grind to a stop in trying to remember each rule. Daniel has used a great tool to have us write 10 – 12 sentences each day to summarize what all we did the day before. We read these and he makes the necessary corrections. It does give us courage that we can express ourselves.

It has taken us some effort to become accustomed to telling time in the Swahili manner. The day starts at 6:00 a.m., so the “first hour of the morning” is 7:00 a.m. and the “seventh hour in the afternoon” is 1:00 p.m. The time at 7:00 p.m. is stated as “the first hour of the evening.” Daniel told us that it is not extremely uncommon even for Kenyans to misunderstand whether the times were given in Swahili or in English and to arrive either 6 hours early or 6 hours late!

The word for “push” (yes, as can be used by obstetricians) is “sukuma” and the word for “week” is “wiki.” We are told that this explains the name of the ubiquitous, kale-like, leafy vegetable that we eat here called “sukuma wiki” – it pushes us through the week!

We cannot say that we are dreaming “in” Swahili yet, but we certainly are dreaming “about” speaking Swahili each night. Reading some Swahili aloud before going to sleep has helped for some phrases to “stick” better. We can already see huge progress in our language-learning after one month and we know that more and more each day we will be dancing and dreaming in Swahili!

Random observations- December 5, 2009:

*Here in Kenya, the shrill cry of a distraught mother cow makes us think of an elephant’s call!

*A Kenyan will typically use his chin to point and raise his eyebrows to answer “yes.”

*Kenyan tea (chai) is not tea with milk and sugar added, but rather it is tea boiled together with whole milk and sugar.

*Handshaking is very important and a hard, loud, handshake slap is shared by men who are dear friends.

*As we listen to people speaking Swahili, they often intersperse many English words, expressions and numbers.

*Cell phones are used here to transfer money from one person’s cell phone account to another’s.

*A loaf of bread costs about 50 cents and a beautiful avocado costs 15 to 30 cents.

*When buying things here in Kenya, it typically is the responsibility of the buyer to have exact change or expect to purchase more to make up the difference. (In fact, Swahili does not have a word for it, they just use the English word: “change.”)

*The trees producing the “purple snow” are called jacaranda trees.

*For our apartment, firewood is considered a “utility” cost, because we have no other means to heat our home.

*Our nightly sounds of “pop bottle wind-chimes” are actually produced by bullfrogs.

*We did, in fact, find the final (3rd) note that our niece, Clara, hid in an ActionPacker!

*ActionPackers covered by Alene with nice pieces of cloth make beautiful benches and can still be used for storage.

*Missionary homes here at Tenwek are very well decorated with Christmas trees (artificial) and electric lights.

We give thanks for the blessings we have received including those of your friendship and prayers. May each of you be blessed as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. May you enjoy special times with family and friends during this Christmas season.


Blake said...

15 cents for an avocado!?! wow, great deal, and SO delicious :)

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