Written September 21, 2010
So one day during my first week in the village my lack of experience speaking Swahili got me in a little hot water. I ran into my VEO (Village Executive Officer), and- even though we both knew I am not suppose to be doing much more than observing these first 3 months- I felt I needed to say something that at least made me appear to be productive.
Some volunteers get a VEO who speaks English. But those of you who know me know that kind of thing never happens in my life. Those of you who know me also know that I have habit of speaking without really thinking it through.
So instead of going home and writing out in Swahili what I should say to explain that at some point I need to meet with the head teacher of the school, I tried to say it in Swanglish...yes, we've coined a term for inserting English when we do not know the correct Swahili word.
Since I did not know how to say "at some point", I said kesho which means tomorrow. In my defense, tomorrow rarely means tomorrow. Nothing happens that fast here! Of course in instance, it actually did!
The next day I head to the primary school with a different village official, who also only speaks Swahili, and met with who I thought was the head teacher. She spoke a little English but it was still fairly confusing. For some reason, she did not say what I expected her to say in my mock conversation I had prepared in my head.
I had figured it would be at least the next term before they could work me in, but as the meeting came to an end, it was expressed for me to start like now. She said a bunch of Swahili of which I understood a tiny part that meant I should return on Monday. I honestly was not sure what I was expected to do when I returned on Monday, but I figured I could roll with whatever.
Then the more I thought about it, the more I started to worry. Primary school is our equivalent of elementary school, and classes are taught in Swahili. I had originally thought I would do some teaching at the secondary school (high school) where classes are taught in English. But my village shares a secondary school with the next village up the mountain.
Now that the snowball was rolling I did not want to offend anyone by switching schools. Though when I mentioned to my villagers what I was setting up, they were not exactly confident in my ability to teach at the primary school. Most laughed hysterically! My constant use of the Eng-Swahili dictionary has become a running joke.
I was able to get lesson plans for environmental education from another volunteer so I could be prepared for whatever Monday brought.
When I returned, I met with a different lady who I found out was the head teacher, or principal. I was better prepared, and she spoke better English. So it was really a great meeting. We set up for me to teach standard (grade) 5 on Mondays and 6 on Tuesdays.
She asked if I wanted to start that morning. At which point, there was only 10 minutes left in what would be my class time. Since I wanted to keep both days on the same lesson plan, I requested to start the next, but learned they were on vacation then. So we decided I would start the following Monday....see, nothing really happens that quickly!
This morning was my second day of my second week, and I am loving it. The lesson plans I got are in English so I am learning Swahili better through translating and teaching in it.
I got a huge, wonderful surprise on the first day when the 5th grade spoke a little English. I was surprised as I had heard that many school systems are not able to teach much English in the primary school, which leads to problems in the secondary school classes given in English. I usually say everything in Swahili and repeat in English as well as write the key points in both languages on the chalk board.
I am still a little nervous asking too many questions to the class as I may not understand their answers, but so far so good!