October 11, 2008


One of the great things about being in the U.S. and Canada recently was the opportunity to talk to people about Itipini directly, rather than through e-mails or blog post after blog post. And, of course, all that conversation was in English.

I mention this because now that I have returned to Itipini, I want to tell all my co-workers and friends here what I was up to while I was gone. I want to tell them about all the new people I met, the new sights I saw, and all the little things that made the break such a treat. But there’s the small problem of language - I lack the vocabulary to say any of that. So when people ask me where I’ve been I say, “at my parents’ house,” which is true but only part of the truth. When they ask how it was I say, “bekumnandi - it was nice,” also true, but again not completely. (Mnandi is the all-purpose Xhosa adjective for “nice,” “pleasant,” or, as some of you may remember, “tasty.”) How do I tell them about the joy of seeing an old friend again for the first time in many years, or the numerous frustrations along the way, or pretty much anything of any interest that happened to me while I was gone?

The plunge back into a Xhosa-dominant workplace was a tremendous shock this week. After talking, talking, and talking, incessantly and in a variety of situations in September, I was confronted again with the challenge of expressing and understanding simple concepts in another language. But I was pleased at how little I had forgotten. I knew so little when I left that if I had forgotten anything it would have been back to square one!