Monday, September 3, 2012

Our South Africa Arrival, Part 2

The Matshika family patiently taught us the ins and outs of living in South Africa - from taking bucket baths to greeting people properly. We also did a little exploring of our new hometown, Waterval, but it was such a vast township we couldn't begin to scratch the surface. 

Perry, Gogo, Sofie, Nolwazi, Elizabeth
Tholi, Samkelo

Another milestone in our training was getting assigned our languages. Most of the volunteers got Zulu, by far the most widely spoken of the Nguni languages. Others got Ndebele, and six of us, Libby and I included, were assigned siSwati. 

Warning! Nerd content ahead. Feel free to skip this section.

siSwati is a dialect of Zulu, which is a member of the Nguni family of Bantu languages. Like Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian and Turkish in Europe, siSwati is an agglutinating language, where affixes are attached to a root morpheme. This means whole sentences can be expressed in a single word. For instance, Ngiyahamba ("I am going") is made of of a subject concord (Ngi-, "I"), a progressive tense marker (-ya-), and a verb stem (Hamba, "go"). The whole system of rules governing the placement of affixes lends the language a very mathematical feeling. I briefly studied Finnish at the UW and recall thinking there was something deeply satisfying about such grammars. Yes, I am that weird. 

End of Nerd Content

Team siSwati, as we called ourselves, comprised Libby and myself, fellow Pacific Northwester Brooke, Holly from Wisconsin, Em from Chicago, and John from Cleveland. Our language facilitator was Joshua, who was fond of turning many lessons into songs.

Joshua and Perry

Our very first lesson, in fact, turned into a call and respond song where we greeted each other:

"Sanibonani!
 Yebo!
 Ninjani?
 Sikhona. Nina ninjani?
 Natsi sikhona."

We sang this so often we started singing our greetings to people we met on the street! 

Language lessons progressed at a rapid rate -- sometimes way too fast to assimilate everything -- but we all got the basics down pretty quickly. We went through dialogue after dialogue rehearsing shopping trips, negotiating fares on taxis, haggling with shopkeepers, etc., until we had a good foundation for getting around town and for getting the things we needed. Our homemade flashcard collection for learning vocabulary grew to the hundreds and we both started dreaming in siSwati - a good sign, I think!

To be continued...

- Perry

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