Almost everyone here is bilingual, speaking at least English (the official language of the education system) and Kiswahili. Some speak many more languages than that. My friend Isaac, one of the Kenyans who works here, says that he can speak 6 tribal African languages and understand 6 others.
It’s a shame then that so few people seem to understand me. My accent, which is clearly not East African English, is unusual to most of the kids. I have been told that they would understand me better if I put on an American accent, but I wouldn’t want to inflict that on them. Instead, I’m trying my best to speak more clearly, separating the words as I go.
Outside of the classroom, however, Kiswahili is the language of choice. There are times when the amount of Swahili that goes on here can feel quite ostracising for me since I can only pick out one or two words at the moment. I feel like I miss out on an lot of information or instructions because so much is going on around me which I don’t understand. But I’m trying to pick up enough phrases so that I can at least pass the time of day with someone before I revert to the colonial tongue…
I do feel a certain amount of pressure to learn the language though. People often reminisce about previous volunteers who learned Swahili fluently within a couple of months. Well, bully for them, I think to myself. Yesterday one of the boys pointed at a German volunteer who has been here for over 6 months, saying that ‘She can speak Kiswahili, why can’t you?’ I wanted to point out the unfairness of this comparison given that I’ve barely been here for two weeks, but I couldn’t be bothered to raise to the bait.
We had three computer classes yesterday. Previous classes had managed to change enough of the settings to bring down a network of 16 computers, which meant that it wasn’t worth bringing in a class of 50 or so students into a computer room which only had 14 working computers. So, instead, I gave a couple of computing theory classes, talking about what a computer is, its functions and uses, its advantages and disadvantages and so on. Amazingly, I felt the classes went very well and for the most part the students listened and even took notes.
By the time it came to the third class of the day, which was with the youngest students, Gary had managed to fix the network and so we let them into the computer room to practise typing in Word. This didn’t quite work out as lots of little hands makes for lots of mischief, especially with computers around, and the class involved a good deal of running around, repairing crashing computers, telling kids to stop pressing random buttons, and so on. By the time we’d got them all out I felt like I’d run a marathon.
I also discovered that one of the kids at Bosco Boys is called Safari Simba. What a great name!
This is an extract from Simon Treacy’s blog. Simon is volunteering in at Bosco Boys in Kenya for three months.