Monday, June 17, 2013

Quote of the Day:  “He who speaks a bit of a foreign language has more delight in it than he who speaks it well; pleasure goes along with superficial knowledge.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

We have a friend in Musoma who has lived here for thirty years and still cannot speak any Swahili.  He says why learn it when there is always someone around who can translate.  We are working hard to learn the language of our adopted country.  Most of the missionaries who come here first go to a three-month language school to learn Swahili, but it costs way too much for us to afford it.  Since the sending denominations and agencies foot the bill for the language school, the others speak Swahili much better than we do.  We used a computer program, some books, and hired a retired teacher to come three times a week for a couple of hours to teach us.  John has the best skills, I may have a slightly larger vocabulary, and Karen can get by with our workers.  We all still have a lot to learn.  We have learned that it is so easy to make mistakes--some quite embarrassing--by just changing a single letter.  I'm sure those learning English find the same difficulties, but I have embarrassed myself more than once.  When I was first learning (see above quote) I was showing off my new skills ordering in a restaurant in Arusha.  I wanted to order a bottle of cold water which is chupa ya maji baridi.  What I ordered instead was just one letter different.  I changed the "a" at the end of "chupa" to an "i" pronounced as a long "e."  So, instead of a bottle of cold water (chupa ya maji baridi)  I ordered chupi ya maji baridi or cold, wet, men's underwear.  The staff at that restaurant is still laughing and retelling that story years later.  That's the problem with making embarrassing gaffes in an oral culture--the stories get told and retold over and over again.  Yet, in spite of that, if you try to speak Swahili, the people here love you and want to help you.  In fact, the father of one of our pastors said that my attempts at Swahili were "charming" (his word).  So, we continue to charm as should anyone living in a different culture.  The language is theirs and deserves to be respected--and attempted.  I could tell you many more examples, but the people who said them would recognize themselves and some might be embarrassed again.  Still, it is better to try and fail than not to try at all.  Might be a sermon in that.

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