Day 1: Meeting the Students and Learning Swahili

For my first day in Machui, I jumped right into life here. The sisters start their day with mass at 6:30 every morning and I decided to join them. The church is right in the middle of the village so I got to see some of it. If you imagine a stereotypical African village, that is really what it looks like. There are stone and mud huts with thatched roofs. It is normal to see chickens, goats, cats and even cows wandering the dirt paths. Banana and coconut trees can be found in abundance here and all the plants are supersized.

Mass was all in Swahili of course, but I tried to think of all the parts in English. I swear the African people are naturally musically talented. The congregation automatically breaks into parts whenever they sing. Sometimes the sisters even pull instruments out of nowhere. I was in awe at the beauty of their voices.

After Mass, I joined the sisters for breakfast and again my stomach had no problem telling me it wasn’t used to the food yet. On my way back to my room, a few of the college students tried to strike up a conversation with me. An hour later, I had two friends. They wanted to know where I was from, why I had come to Machui and of course, all about America. I was surprised to find out that they knew the names of rappers and pop stars. Unfortunately, they get their ideas about us from this music and from movies. They asked me if everyone talks in slang and I told them that no, most people don’t.

The other assumption they have about America is that the people have the power and that our government listens to us. I was tempted to tell them that this isn’t completely true but then realized that we still have infinitely more freedom and voice than they do. One boy said something that illustrates this perfectly: “If the government tells us to go to sleep at 7, we go to sleep at 7.” Think about that the next time you complain that the government is trying to run our lives.

The boys I was talking to are very smart and recognize that Africa has a huge corruption problem. They also recognize that learning English is their ticket to a better life and are very grateful to me for coming to teach them. Hearing them say that reaffirmed why I am here and made me feel wonderful.

Throughout the first day, I also tried to start picking up some Swahili. It turns out that the most confusing part of the language is the greetings. There are so many different ones and each has a unique response. The most common is “Jambo” which you can answer with “Jambo”. Then there is “Mambo” which is answered with “Poa”. Another greeting is “Habari” which essentially means hello and how are you? and is generally answered with nzuri, which means good. Another word I’ve been hearing a lot is “Karibu”, which means welcome. This is answered with “Asante”, which means thank you. I’m hoping that being surrounded by the language and hearing it spoken constantly will help me learn it very quickly.

Kwa heri (Goodbye)!!


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