Monday, May 9, 2011

Language is Culture...Part III: TICC

If you have read some of my most recent posts, you won’t be surprised to hear that…language is culture. While in the coastal town of Tanga, Tanzania for the past 6-weeks completing an intermediate Swahili course with some teammates, I continued to learn about the new culture surrounding me. Despite some differences - Kenyans seems to first identify themselves more by their tribe, whereas Tanzanias seem to first be…Tanzanias, & a coastal culture is different from an inland culture, especially seen in the different foods they eat (lots of fish, fruit, & coconuts!), different jobs (lots of fishermen),
& a higher prevalence of the Muslim religion - there is definite similarities in Eastern African cultures in the basic ways people live. There was another culture I learned about that I wasn’t expecting…Norwegian. This probably surprises you, too:) Well, the owners of the school are Norwegian. They are involved in many development projects around Tanga, including contracts with a number of Norwegian universities to provide some international community health nursing courses. The Norwegian nursing students & their professors were excited to share their ‘brown cheese’
& homemade bread breakfast, & we were fortunate enough to be a part of their just because traditional Christmas dinner in April:) They were even more excited that we liked it! The Maasai guards at the school added another cultural element…jumping contests & chanting followed by Celine Dion songs on the radio, protecting us from snakes, & learning that they don’t like fish & are scared of crabs…but no fear of lions, mind you:) And then there was the night everything merged together….watching the movie ‘The White Maasai’ in Norwegian with our new friends that translated for us the best they could:)

Speaking of food, I loved the coastal food! When I first arrived, I stayed in a village a 20 minute walk away from school, called Mchukuni,
for 1.5 weeks Every evening, Mama Mwalimu (the lady of the house) cooked the most delicious meals – combinations of rice cooked with coconut milk, ugali (the really dense porridge also popular in Kenya), tomato based stews of vegetables & fresh fish caught by the fishermen in the village, bananas, & fruit to top it all off. All of this was cooked from scratch on a jiko (charcoal cooker) outside, just like in Kenya.
The concrete block house I stayed in was owned by the Mwalimu family, one of the wealthiest families in the village. They had running water & elecriticy (praise the Lord!), but no fans in the bedrooms, which led to some very, very, very hot night topped off with about 100% humidity. I don’t think I’ve ever sweat so much in my life! Some nights, required a quick shower to cool off just to try to get back to sleep. But, this is the life they know & live. Every morning as I ate breakfast (chapatti or a deliciously sweet & dense ‘rice bread’ with ginger chai), I watched women & children come to the house to fetch water…the only tap & clean source of water I knew of in the area. If they couldn’t balance the huge plastic containers full of water on their head, they weren’t as respected by people. Did I mention how impressed I am with African women? Since the Mwalimu’s (Swahili for teacher) house was one of only a few places in town that had electricity, people would bring their cell phones to them to be charged. This is a really popular business in East Africa…probably over most of the developing world. They were also one of the few people that owned a TV, so we had many visitors in the evening when it came time for the English-dubbed Spanish soap operas…that made me feel like I was back in the village in Kenya:) Every evening, Mwalimu (the man of the house) went to the mosque for prayer. Muslim prayer is ‘kusali’ (to pray) in Swahili, whereas Christian prayer is ‘kuomba’ (to ask or beg). Parties were a frequent thing in the village, especially in the evenings when it was slightly cooler.
One wedding lasted from Thursday night until Monday morning at 7am! Some nights, we were taunted by drunken bush babies (a furry creature with a long tail larger than a squirrel) that get into the local brew, & dance around on the roof & crack coconuts:)

Life at TICC was much more Western, but we were surrounded by the Tanzanian staff & our teachers.
Everyday consisted of 2 hours of class (in our outdoor classroom:) ), 1-2 hours of Rosetta Stone, & practical time speaking with the staff. Our main textbook was a book called Simplified Swahili, which was written by an Mzungu (aka Westerner) back in the day, so it matched our Western train of thought & learning styles. I didn’t realize this until the day our teacher taught from a different book written by a Tanzanian….I felt like he was jumping around all over the place & teaching small parts of many different topics that didn’t fit together. Language is culture.
There were 1st to 4th grade reading books available for us to learn from, also. I saw a sad theme in too many of the stories that were similar to something I wrote about in a previous blog….death, sickness, brokenness, destruction. One of the stories depicted a herd of cows getting killed by a train, another, a mother so sick & vomiting that she was hospitalized, & another was titled ‘Father, don’t kill me’! Not all of the stories were like this, but it was enough to get a glimpse into the different culture, the different practical things children have to be taught, the different life here.

A couple of hours each day was spent speaking Swahili with the staff. We learned Swahili words about the kitchen, housekeeping, fishing, maintenance, etc. I even got to try out kufyeka (slashing grass) with a panga (machete)!
As we got to know these people, they became our friends. Those that were Christians invited us to their churches on Sundays…another good practical Swahili experience. A teammate of mine began reading the Bible with a Muslim friend, nicknamed Simba (‘lion’):)…it was mutually beneficial Swahili & English practice, & well, you know, the Word. If you’ve ever read from the King James Version of the Bible, you know it doesn’t use every day English. Well, it’s kind of the same with the Bible in Swahili….it’s grammar is very advanced & the words used aren’t every day words.
Please pray for Simba as he is hungry to continue learning more. One day a group of us rode bikes to the nearby village of Mwahako to check on some TICC sponsor kids, and play soccer & sing with them. We had renditions of ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes’ going on in English, Swahili, & Norwegian:) Towards the end of the course, Mama Ruth (the makubwa…aka boss of TICC) had Elizabeth (a teammate & fellow nurse) & I go with some of the Norwegian nursing students to the local clinics & hospital to help translate for interviews in the delivery wards.
It was like a breath of fresh air to be in a medical setting again, especially when I got a glimpse of their Low-Birth-Weight Unit…my NICU:) One of our final assignments was to do an 5-10 minute oral presentation about our experience in Swahili. Be looking for that as my next blog…

I’m now back in Narok, trying to get settled-in to life in Kenya, & use the Swahili I’ve learned. There’s always more language & culture to learn…so, here it goes!

**If you'd like to see pictures from my experience, click here**

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