Ever do something that made perfect sense to you, only to realize later that it probably seemed rather strange to onlookers. I’ve been trying to up the distance of my daily walk, so that I will be fully ready for the distances we may walk in Kenya. In my neighborhood there are two good walking loops. By walking the first twice, you go about a mile. By walking the second twice, you get 3+ miles. Either way, if you’re going to get at least a mile, you end up passing every house at least twice. I’ve been trying to use this walking time wisely. I used it to go over verses while preparing for my prison lesson. I’ve used it to pray. I’ve used it go over materials that I am working on for the next set of forum posts on the FTN website. I’ve noticed people looking at me strangely from time to time as I make my circles with my handful of papers, but never given it too much thought.
Today I decided it was a good time to try something new. I’ve been plugging away on Unit 8 of my Swahili course, but still seem to be having some trouble getting all of the new vocabulary to stick. So today I grabbed the vocab sheets that finally printed out last week and headed out for my walk. I was just about to finish my first lap around the longer loop when a thought struck me. If people look at me strangely for walking around with a handful of papers, what must they be thinking if they see me walking around with a handful of papers and muttering: Je, unataka chakula… Je, unataka chakula…Je, unataka chakula! I have to admit, I laughed out loud at the thought (which probably only increased the wonderful impression I was making) and then continued on my second trip past each house with: Kuna matunda, na uji na mayai…over and over.
It’s good practice in a couple of ways. A huge part of learning to speak a language well is learning not to care what people think of the way you are speaking it. It’s also good preparation for being the only musungu (white person) for miles around for a month at a time and the only person who doesn’t know all of the ins and outs of the local culture – believe me these things earn you a lot of strange looks too!
The walk had some other memorable moments, like the moment when I caught myself using the wrong intonation and scolded myself with a resounding Russian, “Nyet”. It was encouraging that my brain was fully in foreign language mode, but it was also a reminder that I need to get past the point of substituting words from a better understood language in holes in the lesser understood language. Otherwise, we’ll have a repeat of the scene on the metro my first year in Russia when I ran out of Russian words and just immediately filled in with Spanish! That poor woman had no idea what I was trying to say to her!
Another nice moment was the smell of a wood stove as I was just getting to the end of the loop. It smelled just like the cook fire where Rachel Sang and I made Ugali and Sukuma Wiki, Ghiteri or Chapati each night for supper, and reminded me of Meema singing, “I’m in the kitchen making chapati, I like chapati, you like chapati…