We’ve been at the Mokoko Language School for a week and have now completed our first week of classes. It has been a challenge, but it is fun. I’m especially enjoying it because I can almost feel the information hidden away deep in the recesses of my brain being pulled back up to the surface. For those readers that don’t know, I took Kiswahili classes back at USC, but that was 5 years ago, and most of it has been lost due to lack of usage (you may find it hard to believe, but South Carolina doesn’t have many Swahili speakers. It’s true). So with every lesson, I am remembering more and more. I fully expect this surge of memory to plateau pretty soon, but nonetheless it’s fun to know I really did learn a few things back in 2005-06. Katie is doing a very good job with the language. She’s never studied it before, so it’s a bit overwhelming for her, but she’s doing very well so far, and I expect her to continue to pick it up at a quick pace.
A little about the school: This school was started by in the 1960’s by Maryknoll as a training ground for its priests and nuns in East Africa, but over the decades it began catering to anyone who was interested, and eventually the Maryknoll Society handed it over to the Diocese of Musoma to run. One great thing about the school is the relatively small number of students here; we’re in a cohort of 19 people. That’s less than the people in my one Swahili class back at USC, and that’s the whole cohort. We’re broken into smaller classes, so I’m in a class of only three people, which is great because we are getting a huge amount of individual practice while also having a few folks with whom to interact. Everything we are doing so far is by listening and speaking only; we’re not allowed to have a book for at least another week, which is a challenge, but I must say it forces you to really pick it up quick. The instructors are very nice and supportive, and the method they use seems to be working quite well so far. We have five classes a day, plus a language lab in the afternoon.
The students studying here are from all over. In addition to us Maryknollers, there are three more Americans, two nuns from Poland, a nun from the Congo, another from Ghana, and another from Chad, yet another from Colombia, three people from Switzerland, a priest from the Philippines, and a Korean woman working on her Masters in Development studies in the UK. It’s quite a diverse group.
We’ve been venturing into the town of Musoma and wandering through markets and into some of the neighborhoods close to the school to try out our newfound language skills. There’s lots of kids shouting “Wazungu! Wazungu!” (“White People!”). We can tell people we’re students and are studying Swahili, and we can ask people their names and tell them ours. Generally after that, the folks launch into a flurry of words, and we give panicky blank stares and say “Sijui! Sijui!” which means “I don’t know!” It’s pretty fun.
To show off a little of our developing vocabulary: Jina langu ni Chris, na mimi ni mwanafunzi wa Mokoko Shule ya Lugha. Mimi na mke wangu tunakaa Musoma sasa, lakini tutakwenda kukaa Mwanza. (I cannot verify that that is all correct, but it’s a good faith effort at using some of what I’m learning so far!)
Yesterday, a group of us had headed into town to buy a few things and explore the area. We spent the afternoon walking through a bustling market, crowded and full of energy and chaotic busyness. Afterwards, one of our group decided to have her car washed (it was covered in mud from the trip from Arusha in the East to Musoma). As we waited we sat outside a store (a duka) and drank sodas and visited with the store owner. People were walking up and down the street hauling their wares to sell, kids were running around, people were coming up the street from a nearby mosque, the sun shone down while a cool breeze carried the sound of a radio through the air. For a few minutes, I held a little baby that someone just randomly handed to me. Very often, in little moments like that, I have to stop and marvel: we are actually doing this. It’s a crazy thing to up and move to another side of the world, but we’ve dreamed of it for so long and here we are, living the dream. It’s quite a blessing, and I am humbled by the opportunity to do something like this. Asante, Mungu.