Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kusema Tena? (Say Again?)

20 February 2010

When does saying “I love you, God” get misconstrued as Satan-worship? Only in Tanzania…

This week was my third grader’s assembly, and we worked hard all week despite all the in-and-outness of my kids with sickness. We finally made it through the week and I actually made it to school early on Friday morning. A Tanzanian parent came in to see me, so it was good I was there. She was concerned about one of the motions we were doing in our song “Friend Like You” by Big Daddy Weave. She told me that if you make a fist with your hand, and lift up just your pointer and pinky fingers, it’s a sign of Satan-worship here in Africa. She said if I looked it up on Google I could see people in pictures holding this up all over Africa. I haven’t checked it out yet, but I’ll take her word for it. I was definitely surprised, and she said she was sure I never knew this before… which of course is true. Then I shared that what we were doing actually included using our thumb, which is the “I Love You” sign from American Sign Language (ASL). She was shocked to hear it’s meaning in America. I may not use the sign again here, but it was too late to make a change for the assembly that morning… so I made sure my kids knew to use their thumb on stage as well as they lifted their hands to praise the Lord!

The verb “panda” means to climb or to plant in Swahili. Recently one of Marie’s students asked if she knew what it meant, and Marie explained this. The student giggled, then wrote a sentence using it on her white board. When another child got mad, Marie learned that the third meaning for panda is “to kill.” Uh, somehow our Swahili teacher neglected to tell us that one…

My students have signs to use when they want to blow their nose (a common occurrence these days in my class!). They cover their nose, and I nod for them to go get a tissue. Or I make a circle with my finger and they know to sit back in the criss cross position. It saves unneeded vocal conversations and answering questions in the midst of learning in the classroom. Recently, I decided that we should do the same for times when they want water or are requesting a trip to the bathroom. The students suggested that we use signs from American Sign Language, and I said I’d let them know. Later, as I talked to my in-house ASL expert (Marie used it a lot in Alaska), I learned that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, after all. Turns out that the same sign we use for bathroom in ASL is a swear word in some African sign language. She’s not sure yet what it means, but in the end it doesn’t really matter anyway. I guess we’ll be coming up with a different sign for bathroom in my class.

Living in a place where so many languages are mixed makes things interesting for sure. Today I stood with our house-help Esther in the kitchen cutting up tomatoes for spaghetti sauce, with my head plugged up from my cold. I wanted to ask her if she liked the music I put on in the background, but for the life of me all I could think of was “Te gusta?” and a whole string of Spanish. That’s great, if we were in Mexico! But if her English is limited, there’s no way she knows Spanish. It’s just not spoken here at all. I finally asked something – “sawa?” (ok?) – and she responded back with the appropriate short-phrase, “vizuri sana!” (Very good!) and a smile. Lately, with other stresses pushing down on me, I’ve been tempted to throw up my hands and throw out Swahili altogether… but ultimately, that’s not what I want at all. It’s just so frustrating to want to communicate something and not be able to say it. Pray that I’d soon learn my way around the language – and sign language – of my new home here in Dar, and that I’d be patient with myself along the way... kama Yesu akipenda! (If Jesus wills!)

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