Our cab driver from the airport told us in three weeks we would be masters in Swahili. I was not convinced but his confidence in us was pretty encouraging. Two days later I am completely lost and only the “master” of about two and a half words. Also, I unknowingly switch to speaking Spanish sometimes. Not helpful. Swahili sounds nothing like Spanish. In order to become a “master” I plan on dedicating about an hour a day to studying. At the moment, I have the discipline and enthusiasm. Hopefully it lasts and hopefully I make some progress. I have a trusty dictionary with a beginning chapter on grammar that I will be turning to in times of need. Along with that, practically anyone you come into contact with during a day is willing to give you a few tips in the language. Most of the time they laugh at any attempt you make to use what you have just learned… but its all part of learning. As we get further away from Chipole we start to feel the pressure to learn and speak Swahili. Quite a lot of sisters at St. Agnes speak English so it doesn’t seem as pertinent to learn as it does in the surrounding villages or travelling to Songea. Those trips double as language lessons. The lesson we learned during our first trip was “How to order three beers and three dishes of potatoes and eggs”. I definitely failed the lesson. But Tyler (the BVC volunteer in Hanga) pulled through and after about 20 minutes of trial and error we were eating Chipsy Mayai and drinking Castle Light. It was well worth the struggle. We have found that some of the keys to learning are:
1. Open your mouth. You won’t make any progress with your head in a book. Talk to people and use what you have learned (no matter how little it may be).
2. Get over the embarrassment. You won’t speak well or even make sense most of the time. People will laugh at your accent and your crooked sentences. Don’t take it personal because the next thing they do is correct you and help you. You can’t be too busy feeling foolish and miss what they are saying.
3. Keep at it. Studying Spanish has taught me that you will make uphill progress and then reach a plateau at some point. It will seem like there is absolutely no more room for new vocabulary or grammar rules to fit into your brain. But the uphill slope will slowly begin again if you are patient and persistent.
I am eager to learn and excited to be able to communicate with more of the sisters and people around Chipole. Hopefully it will make traveling a lot less stressful and only take us 5 minutes rather than 20 to order a meal. I will keep a record of the time so we can track our progress!