Growing up in rural Appalachia, it goes without saying that we have a special way of expressing ourselves. Syllables and vowel length have been mere suggestions. Creating melodious, multisyllabic words in a single bound are somewhat of an inherited super power. However, our proverbial kryptonite is learning a new language seeing that we are still trying to master our first one.
While at our training in Colorado, we were taught many techniques on how to learn a new language. We were introduced to a new phonetic alphabet, how to execute glottal stops, what on earth a fricative is (my favorite new word) and that sometimes it’s ok to spit when you speak. We were also reminded that learning a new language, and in turn a new culture, is a wonderful exercise in humility. Our octogenarian instructor said we would spread great cheer amongst the locals while learning the language. He would often repeat, “no one will speak your target language quite like you.” He enthusiastically encouraged us to get out there and “butcher it to death” because in his mind, there is no other way to learn than to give it a shot and make a million mistakes along the way.
So far he has been right. No one in Chogoria has spoken Swahili quite the way we do; at least no one around here has a southern accent like ours. And over the last 7 weeks, we have done everything in our power to butcher Swahili. We have spread cheer in the market, at church, the matatu stand and to our language helper. Rarely have we seen another grown person laugh so hard. The great thing about it is that it is not a laughter of mockery, but one of endearment. Our language helper has gracefully loved us while we have destroyed her native tongue with our non-stop onslaught of pronunciation snafus and grammatical mishaps. At times subject verb agreement eludes us in English, so you can imagine how many mistakes we make when the sentence structure is completely opposite of what we are accustomed to (yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition). Some of our greatest hits are as follows:
1. When asked what my favorite food is, I quickly replied “tacos”! I was subsequently informed that taco (spelled tako) in Swahili means buttock.
2. While attempting to put together some incredibly rudimentary sentences, I supplanted the word for “show me” with the word for “breastfeeding.”
3. Again to my surprise, and to our language helper’s enjoyment, the word for house and the word for fart are only one letter different. You can guess which one I used. Despite my intended kindness, inviting someone over to your fart, doesn’t quite extend the same courtesy in any culture.
4. Lastly, the word “prepare” is very, very close to the word “circumcision.” I’ll let you fill in the blanks.
So, we will continue to lay our pride aside and continue to walk in humility towards some semblance of fluency. Along the way we will likely be able to create our own dialect out of our innumerable mistakes. We’ll call it Swahilbilly. Regardless, this has been another area for us to lay down our ideas of success and self-sufficiency, and fully rely upon the Father for provision. We may never fully learn Swahili, but we will never forget the lessons of unconditional love, mercy and kindness we have been shown by all throughout this process.