Monday, August 30, 2010

Can You Understand the Words that are Coming Out of my Mouth?

I have begun learning a second language called Kalanga, which is spoken by the majority of people in the northwest part of Botswana.

I am back after two weeks of training in the capital. It was nice to see everyone and catch up on stories from the last two months. One commonality we all seem to share is there have been some rough times and being at our sites is hard in ways we never imagined.

We had a panel of current volunteers come to speak to us and the words of one really stuck with me.

First, a little background: The Peace Corps has three goals and these have been the same since it was founded in 1961.
  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
The volunteer said that many of us were frustrated at times because we focused so much and worried so much about goal number 1; our work. Americans are a very work oriented people and Peace Corps Volunteers are no different. The current volunteer said we often get frustrated by our work because work and attitudes towards work is very different across the world. It is typical for volunteers to want to immediately dive into projects and see results because we don't want to feel that our time has been wasted. She mentioned that we should spend some time focusing on goals 2 and 3. We are supposed to be exchanging culture while doing some meaningful work.

Today was a good day in those terms. I went down to the small market in town to buy peanuts (I am going to try to make boiled peanuts, but that is a topic for another blog). I spoke to the woman in Setswana asking her how to say "peanut" and then asking how much the peanuts were. She answered a few of the questions and then switched to English. She mentioned that her Setswana was not so good. I then asked her if she knew how to speak Kalanga. She was shocked to hear me speak it.

"Who taught you Kalanga?" she asked. I told her about me and that I had just begun learning it. She insisted that I come back to see her so I could get some more practice. I have feeling that whenever I need beans, peas, or peanuts I will be stopping by.