I just completed a month-long introductory Swahili course. The class consisted of Musa, our gregarious Tanzanian teacher, a Japanese housewife married to a JICA “expert,” and myself.
Musa is an extremely dynamic teacher, willing to make a spectacle of himself to elucidate a point lost on his kingergarten-level apprentices. His toothy, boyish grin reveals deep dimples that alight his face. He has a larger than life personality. Wherever he goes, an entourage follows suit. I quickly recognized I had much to learn from this character.
The Japanese housewife dually embraced her Swahili studies with fervor, however she failed to adopt a mutally shared sense of respect for our teacher. She described her worldly travels on the heels of her husband’s career pursuits with a sense of accomplishment. His unspecified expertise had opened doors for them all around the world, and we soon discovered Spanish was our strongest shared language. Her leisurely pursuits represented a broad range of atheletic, culinary and inebriating activities. Cultural exchange and understanding were not part of this illustrative line up.
Musa had a penchant for showing up several minutes to class each day. She greeted him daily by rolling her eyes, tapping her watch, and practicing her newly acquired Swahili skills to inform him just how late he was. Her bags were often packed and she was out the door promptly when the class “finished” despite Musa’s attempts to make up for lost time.
Given his back-to-back schedule of Swahili classes over the course of day, he was often squeezing in meals between classes or, at times, would even have a meal delivered to the classroom so as to not miss instruction time. Her distaste for this was palatable as she would chide and make disparaging remarks to me in Spanish about his bad behaviors and poor eating habits.
One day, Musa and I got sidetracked from our daily lesson talking about Tanzanian customs around weddings and funerals. Following several minutes of lively and enlightening discussion, the Japanese housewife looks up and blythely asks, “Are you two finished, yet?”
And so it seems we had very different aims with undertaking a course of language study. She took seriously mastering numbers and bargaining with the stated intention of capitalizing on these skills to purchase fresh fish at the best price possible from the market and prepare sashimi for her husband each night in their over-priced ex-pat home in an upscale neighborhood.
December 9, 2009
I have adopted the front balcony as my most cherished spot in my new “home” away from home. It overlooks a dirt road with confetti-like remnants of plastic trash strewn about. In the evening, large jet-black crows circle overhead in a frenzied manner, feverishly communicating in a language to which I am not privy. The sky is filled with a mesmerizing mix of cobalt and indigo blue interrupted by thin streaks of clouds and splashes of orange from the setting sun. People walk by and sometimes stare in wonder at the white girl perched on the balcony above. Neighbors from the presumably cramped living quarters across the way pour out onto the street to take in their daily dose of gossip and idle chitchat before dark falls. The unhurried pace on the street level foils my hasty attempts to become a ready expert in the inner workings of Tanzanian life and culture.
at 9:07 AM