May 28, 2008


I’m fortunate that at Itipini a few of our staff members speak English. Not only does this help me do my job, it’s helped me form deeper relationships with them. (Though I’m at the point now where language is less of a barrier for the Xhosa-only staff.)

Still, there are problems, epitomized by one conversation I had not long ago with Mkuseli, our after-school director. We were doing our best to speak in Xhosa and I had to ask in English about a vocabulary word.

Me: “Coach, how do you say ‘sad’ in Xhosa?”
Him: “‘Sad’? It’s ‘watsho’.”
(I already knew “watsho” and it means “he said.”)
Me: “No, not “said” but “sad.”
Him: “Yes, ‘watsho.’”
Me (a slight note of aggravation creeping into my voice): “No ‘sad’!”
Him: “Spell the word.”
Me (thinking I’ll get somewhere now): “S-A-D.”
Him: “Yes, ‘said.’ ‘Watsho.’”
Me (very aggravated): “No, not S-A-I-D, S-A-D!”
Him: “‘Watsho’!”
Me (resigned to defeat): “Forget it, how do you say ‘cry’?”

I have conversations like this every single day. A lot of people in Mthatha speak some English but not a lot (at least of the ones I interact with) are fluent or are used to an American accent. So I am always thinking of ways to simplify my speech, find a common vocabulary, say something I can translate into Xhosa, and so on and so forth. I think it is one of many reasons I come home at the end of the day so exhausted. Working here just takes new energy in parts of the day when I’m not used to expending any.