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Kiswahili: Kigumu na Rahisi (Kiswahili: Difficult and Easy)

July 19, 2016

 

I have spent the past six weeks living in Usa River, a town outside of the city of Arusha in northern Tanzania, studying Kiswahili with the State Department-sponsored Critical Language Scholarship Program.  [Let me reiterate here that all views presented on this blog are my own, and that no other individual or entity, including but certainly not limited to the U.S. government, should ever be held responsible for my meandering musings and half-formed posts, nor for the numerous misspellings and grammatically errors contained therein.]  I have intended to get blog posts up for weeks but have been busy here, writing a lot but mostly Kiswahili essays for class.  This post is a quick overview of my experience studying here so far.

Ever since I landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport in December 2010 to begin two years of teaching English as a Jesuit Volunteer at a Catholic secondary school in Moshi, Tanzania, I have spent a large amount of time trying to learn the Kiswahili language.  Even after two of the most intense years of my life as a JV in Tanzania and my continued formal and self-study of this language in the subsequent three and a half years, there is still so much about Kiswahili that I don’t know or only understand incompletely.  Some days here I can actively participate and understand hours of class  discussions on technical grammar questions or Tanzanian society and then still miss a simple joke in casual conversation during tea time (yes, I drink tea during tea time every school day and enjoy it) or at home.  Among many other mistakes, I still routinely confuse the adjectives for black (-eusi) and white (-eupe), a particularly unhelpful tendency when trying to discuss race in U.S. society and politics; mispronounce words; change tense far too often, especially in writing; and retreat to my dictionary on a regular basis in class.

Although I tried hard to learn as much Kiswahili as possible during my time in Moshi, this summer is my most intense experience of Kiswahili immersion yet.  When I was in JVC, I always had the escape valve of returning home to our small community of English-speaking Americans each evening as well as opportunities to speak English with my fellow teachers at school.  In accordance with the CLS language policy and my own desire to deepen my knowledge of the language, Kiswahili is the language I use all day long–in the classroom, with my host family, with my fellow CLS participants, and when I am out and about in Usa River or Arusha.  Twice a week I meet with my language partner, a Kiswahili and computer teacher at a local secondary school, for two hours to discuss various topics at length or visit different areas of Usa River.  I have also continued my former habits of trying to primarily access news from Kiswahili sources (especially radio and newspapers) and attending Kiswahili church services, both Pentecostal and Roman Catholic.  A few weeks ago I both understood and was personally challenged by a sermon by a visiting Kenyan Pentecostal evangelist.  She spoke at length (and with a rapid rate of speech) about God’s work of adoption and salvation by grace alone.  My religious vocabulary game has been strong since fairly early in my JVC time, but I am now able to connect with Christian worship in Kiswahili more deeply than ever before.

As during my previous stays in this country, I am so grateful to all the Tanzanians who have welcomed me into their lives.  I’ve been able to travel back to Moshi and to visit friends from my JVC time who now live in Arusha and Babati, a large town several hours south of Arusha.  Even as I contemplate potential dissertation research in East Africa, I am daily reminded of what a gift my Tanzanian coworkers, students, and friends have given me by befriending and helping me and sharing their lives with me.  (I also have a hunch that I am an even more annoying person in Kiswahili than I am in English.)  I hope to put a few blog posts up in my final two weeks here, though I probably won’t get pictures up until I get back to the States.  And, to answer everyone’s most important question, Shania Twain is still a force to be reckoned with in Tanzanian radio’s post-10 p.m. programming.

Best wishes and blessings to you all!

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