Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Choosing Humiliation

I have a college degree and a teaching credential and half of a master's degree.  I love words--speaking them and writing them.

Yet learning Kiswahili has reduced me to the status and knowledge of a two-year-old.  Except when a two-year-old says, "Play wif me?" or "I want hot gogs," people think it's cute.  It's not so cute when you are 37.

Yes, we've lived in Dar for 10 years.  We do not speak Swahili.  I studied with a tutor for about a year when we first got here, and obtained a working knowledge of the language.  I can communicate with shopkeepers, mechanics, taxi drivers, and the people who work for us.  I can talk about the weather and the time and how much things cost.  I have even done some some fast negotiating with customs officials at the airport.  But not enough to build relationships.

Our entire ministry was in English, and our ministry was all-consuming.  We had relationships with many Tanzanians, but they were all English speakers.  English is common here, and sought-after.  All private schools, even public high schools, and all universities are in English.  I tried in vain for years to find a Kiswahili pre-school for my kids, but anyone who can afford pre-school wants their kids to learn English.

But now, our lives are different.  Though we are still working with mainly English speakers, they are all Tanzanian.  And the way to get to their hearts, and understand their culture, is to learn Kiswahili.

So here we go.

Learning another language, while you are living in that language, essentially means that you are choosing humiliation.

You often say things that you don't mean to say, and often, it's the wrong thing.  You agree to things that you don't mean to agree to.  You don't get the inside jokes.  You are the inside joke.   People talk about you behind your back, except they're actually right in front of you.  People laugh at you, and even if you are laughing along with them, you feel like an idiot.

We are diving into a Kiswahili church.  We threw our kids in head-first.  Grace cried after the first week.  We bribed them with soda.  It worked.  We bribe them with money when we hear them using new words.  That's working too.  Hey, you do what you gotta do.

But it's exhausting.  I sit in church with my dictionary and my notebook and frantically look things up and write them down.  Last Sunday, they announced a coming potluck and that everyone should bring food.  I got that much, but not when it would be or for what purpose.  It's kind of scary.  And vulnerable.  And humiliating.

Thankfully, Tanzanians tend to be very gracious.  They love it when foreigners attempt their language.  They are happy to help.

This is Lucy.  She is my Kiswahili tutor and she comes to my house three days a week.  She is sarcastic and mischievous, and very, very funny.  She loves Jesus too, and recently told me how she learned to bake a cake over charcoal (yes, it can be done!) just so that she could invite her neighbors over to tell them the simulizi (stories of God).  She's pretty cool that way.

If there's anyone who's going to come my house and make my brain hurt, I'm glad it's Lucy.

Gil, on the other hand, decided to flee this English-infested community and head to Zanzibar island for language school.  So he is there for this whole month, living with a local family and studying Kiswahili full-time.  Of course, it helps that in his spare time, he gets to take amazing pictures like these, since Zanzibar is one of the most amazing places on earth.

[He] made himself nothing, 
taking the very nature of a servant, 
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself.

I'm sure glad He was willing to humiliate Himself for me.  I will do it for Him.

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