Day 362: This and That

by lara vogel, lara@trippingonwords.com

It is so lucky for us that we are living in a place that is both very foreign, and yet quite English friendly. But at times, I cannot tell if our supposedly communal language is more a barrier to information than otherwise. We so often feel the children understand us because they supposedly speak our language, and they have intelligent responses like “yes, even this one knows.” And then they return with a cup of tea to give me, when I just wanted to know if they were coming to run today.

However, we do appreciate the effort. As of right now, their unclear English is undoubtedly better than the flood of Swahili that some children opt for—Claire listened to a 10 minute story from a small boy (who when he does speak in English adds the pronoun “my” to everything including his own name) all in Swahili. I appreciated this from afar, as his massive stomach, tendency to wear Bermuda shorts, and unevenly shaved head make him look like a grumpy and unkempt eighty-year-old golfer who is very short and very serious about everything.

But a lot of these strange linguistic quirks are getting explained through our own study of Kiswahili. We have employed a tutor for just this purpose…she is the manager’s sister-in-law which means she’s not really all that qualified and is certainly overpriced, but she answers our questions and comes to our house so we love her.

After an entirely Kenyan start in which she came 5 hours late to our first lesson, never called to confirm our tentatively scheduled next class, and then showed up 3 hours late telling us her keys were locked in the car, we were unsure how efficient these courses might be. Turns out actually speaking a language makes you very qualified to speak it—but explaining it is another matter.

However, halfway through the lesson, as she explained yet again why in one sentence we had to say “we are these hippos” (interestingly, the word for hippo is the same as the word for “stick used for beating children”) rather than “we are hippos,” we had a break through. We have been impersonating these kids for weeks now, and they speak in their mother tongue translated to English. Why not just translate our mimicry into Swahili?

So now, we simply impersonate Yoda and the old-man golfer whenever we attempt to learn Swahili, and we are doing much better:

"Claire, I am seeking one avocado. Are you having?"

"Yes, Lara. But I am fearing that the tree of avocadoes is not so long. The fruits are not so big like Jonathan. It is necessary that we come."

Our teacher is going to be so proud of us tomorrow morning.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog since day 100 and something - happening to see its intriguing title featured on Blogspot. I feel as if both of you are now dear friends, until I realize that I've never commented and you have no idea who I am. I feel as if even your manner of writing has seeped into my own. You routinely make me laugh and cry. Should your world travels ever take you to southern New Jersey, we must meet for coffee. Sadly, Blogger does not accept my attempts to leave my name.

farmerm said...

having trouble posting comments. had to resignup on both sites - kids and your. evil google

Kelly said...

Lara and Claire. Jambo! lur so silly. I feel like you had linguistic break through. And I bet you will sound just as funny to the kids when you try to speak Kiswahili to them. Lara, do the kids know the kenyan song that dennis tought us? I cant really remember it. but i remember it ended with hakkuna matata.

miss you lots. the orphans blog is genius!

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