Learning Swahili

Published on 22 September 2023 at 20:00

Yesterday our friend, Masoud, took us to visit the primary school in the local village where we are staying. He met us at the beach and walked us on a path through fields with grazing cows and gardens that the village uses for food or as trade to the other villages. This year the village is currently growing sweet potatoes. They will trade other villages on the island their sweet potatoes for other crops.  As we are walking on this path, I notice tons of banana and papaya trees, coconuts, tomato plants, avocados, fields of peanut plants, pineapples. Some of the children are chewing on raw sweet potatoes and kindly offered some to Nash. Nash politely says, "No thank you" because it was "a little bit dirty". 


Mnarani Primary School is the local school for kids around this area of the island. The children either attend a morning or afternoon session. Each classroom has around 40-50 kids with 1 teacher. Masoud stepped into the office and spoke with the Headmaster and some of the teachers. The first classroom we visited was 2nd grade. All the children were sitting on the floor smiling while we stood in front of the classroom. The teacher spoke to Masoud in Swahili and said for us to introduce ourselves, where we are from and why we are here. He translated for us in front of all the children. We were all a bit apprehensive as we were paraded around to different classrooms. Once we were able to sit down on the floor and interact with the children, everyone felt at ease. The last classroom we visited was the 8th grade which consisted of kids from ages 12-16 (if we understood correctly). The older children politely raised their hands to ask questions: "Mister, what is your ambition?" I sat with a group of the older girls and Paul sat with a group of the older boys. The girls would say to me "Madame, what is your hobby?" "Madame, why is physical exertion important for your health". "Madame, how do you make pancakes"?  I did my best to explain to them in English but I'm not sure if they completely understood. I'm so impressed with their English! Finally, the girls asked me to teach them their science lesson for today. Their workbook was in English and they were learning about the body parts of the head, neck and stomach. "What is the liver? What does it do? What is the pituitary gland? Why do we need it?" These are just a few of the questions the girls asked me. 


The morning session is from 7 am - 11 am. At 11 am, all the children walk home for lunch and are done for the day. The afternoon session is for an entirely different group of children. As we were walking around the school, Nash gets surrounded by tons of small children all wanting to see him and touch him. The girls all told him, "I love you" and "may I kiss you". They sang the song "If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands" for him. They wanted him to sing a song for them so we sang "The wheels on the bus". The older girls also told Finn the same thing. I really wish we could have filmed this entire experience but we wanted to be respectful and only took pictures when they allowed us. 


In the afternoon, Masoud's brother took us in his taxi to the closest city to buy soccer balls for the kids. Two of the boys joined us for our drive to go to the city. It was a long, bumpity-bump ride through Ngezi forest to the city of Konde. There are 3 main cities on this island and Konde is the closest one to our village. It is only 8 miles to the city but it took us over an hour to get there. Paul told me I could run faster than we are driving! Along the drive we saw so many children on the side of the road. Nash would smile and say "that one is peeing" or "I see his butt cheeks"!  All the children were smiling, waving and yelling Jumbo as loud as they could to us! Jumbo is Swahili for "hello and welcome".  In the city, we tried to find an ATM or a bank but none existed here. You have to go back to the capital for that! We did buy the boys some "new" shoes- "new" shoes here are used shoes that are for sale. We also lucked out and found some decent soccer balls for the children. The city was busy with bicycles, motorbikes and the occasional large truck filled with at least 20 people zooming by. The trucks or motorbikes honk to warn the children to move over. We had to keep our head on a swivel to make sure the boys didn't get ran over! Young children worked in the shops mostly selling poor quality or used clothes.  Finn and Nash were hot and thirsty so we were trying to find something to drink. We saw some water bottles and orange drinks for sale at one of the shops.  All the drinks were extremely warm from sitting out in the hot sun. Nash kept asking, "can we find some cold drinks? Where is ice here?"  Ice is definitely a luxury on this island. I watched the bar tender at our hotel make ice: he freezes a water bottle, takes a long sharp knife and chops it off.  No ice machines or makers here! 

One of the local young boys has been teaching me Swahili. He is kind and patient. His English is amazing and he hopes to become a pilot one day. He was writing the words in English and Swahili on the sand to help me learn. 

On the way home, we made several stops to give a soccer ball to the local chief of each village. Finally we stopped at a beautiful beach where the boys ran and played soccer with their friends!

I am hoping this description can paint a small picture of our day! I believe this is something all of us will remember for the rest of our lives!

Add comment


Karen Mary Schaefer
9 months ago

I'm loving and looking forward to reading your posts and seeing your photos every day! What an amazing, life-changing adventure for you and especially for Finn and Nash!

9 months ago

Wow.... what a day that was!!