Lala Land

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Emmanuel and Martin

Day 11

This morning I had a meeting with one of the Swahili teachers at the school, Paul. I told him about my mission to teach myself Swahili, and my dad’s experiences and methods as a linguist. I showed him what I had learned and figured out so far in a one-page chart, and he joked, “What do you need my help for?”

As I expected, he helped me a lot. Although Dad’s “barefoot language learning” technique involved a lot of independence, he also encouraged using coaches, guides, mentors, and teachers when available to help you “get what you need” and “evaluate what you use.”

I think Ndekirwa, my gatekeeper “mwalimu” (teacher), has told his colleagues he’s been teaching me Swahili. He was gone today, but his replacement filled in for him. When I was going home for lunch, some guys were bringing the horses in from a pen where they were grazing. I asked the new gatekeeper how to say “horse,” and he told me. When I put it into a Swahili sentence, he corrected me. (Unfortunately I can’t remember what I said, or the correction.)

I asked his name, and he said “Emmanuel.” I said, “Oh, that means ‘God with us.’” His eyes lit up. “Ndio! Mungu pomoja nasi!” (Actually, I didn’t remember it, but that’s the way Google says it.) (I asked him to repeat it the next day, and promptly forgot it because I didn’t write it down.)

As I passed the home of my Minnesota friends, Martin the gardener said “Habari” to me through the hedge. I peered through and said something back. We went back and forth for a while, and he corrected my Swahili — and again, I forgot the corrections. (Later in the day I took their picture.)

This afternoon I walked all the way to the city center, about three miles, to have coffee with Frank at a coffee coop and restaurant called Union Coffee. I didn’t see another white person (except in cars) until I was a block from my destination. Once at Union Coffee, though, I felt right at home, with pairs of white girls poking their phones and couples immersed in their own laptops.

I saw my roommate Sarah and her friend Walter, who was on his way back to the Netherlands tonight. They were actually talking to each other, and to other friends they ran into. (Earlier in the day I took a photo of the five of us who have been sharing the house for the last couple of days.)

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Sarah, Walter, Madalena, Alfred, and Yours Truly

I waited two hours for Frank while having a supper of steak and chips (overpriced at about $5.50) and then took a taxi home (overpriced at about $4).

Samuel was there, of course, and he told me that tomorrow is his day off. He taught me “step by step” which he surprised me with last night in English. In Swahili it’s “hatua kwa hatua,” which I’ll try on Ndekirwa and the guys in the morning. He taught me words for “man” and “woman,” which were way overdue. We talked about the stars again, and days off, and sleep. “Ninalala” is Swahili for “I’m going to sleep,” giving a whole new meaning to “lalaland.”

Speaking of which …


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