Back in early September I went into English teaching mode in my community. Perhaps you’re wondering what the entails. I decided that despite failed attempts at organizing English clubs/classes I could make every encounter with folks who need to know English meaningful.
This is a bit harder than it sounds, for the first three months I was so focused on mastery of Kinyarwanda that I squashed any attempts by my coworkers to speak in English, unless I lacked the vocab to communicate in kinya. That pretty much set the course for the rest of my service and now it requires a lot of effort on my part to remember to speak English with people who want to practice. You might call that successful integration.
So my grand plan wasn’t really so grand at all, but it’s had pretty awesome results. Each day on my way to and from work I greet every single student, teacher, shopkeeper, or anyone else I see who needs to know English for professional reasons. When I encounter a pack of students on their way to school I try to make eye contact and greet no more than 2-3 of them at a time. The coworker I walk to work with on a regular basis usually laughs at me as I interrupt the conversation with greater frequency as we near the school.
It seems like a small enough act but after the first month I noticed a real difference. Kids here are sequestered a bit from adult interaction. Most families I visit the kids are kept outside or in a back room, at meal time they eat apart from the adults on a mat on the floor with their hands. There are of course logistical reasons for this I’m sure…. But much of the time it’s got the ‘children are meant to be seen and not heard’ mentality. I mention this because when I first started greeting the kids I got a lot of nervous giggles, lack of eye contact and mumbled responses. As the days of greeting wore on, an increasing number of students would make eye contact and give clear responses.
The responses are rather comical. When I say good morning to a student I’m likely to hear anyone one of these responses:
-Good morning (teacher)
-How are you
-Fine thank you
I’ve explained to people that I don’t care how the students respond, only that they DO respond. The most important thing is that they get used to being greeted by an adult/foreigner and have the confidence to return the greeting however they can.
In semi-related news I’m overjoyed to know the word is about my preferred way for greeting little kids. It’s been a tradition for awhile now that when I come home I greet all the neighborhood kiddos with a hug and a small lift off the ground. It’s good for them and it’s good for me. More recently it’s caught on in my village as well and I’m floored anytime a little one approaches me arms up for a hug. Just this morning I had two little girls race up to hug me this morning then follow me up the hill to work repeating my name over and over. If that’s not a good start to the day tell me what is. A final miracle was when an American visitor and I encountered a liiiiiittle girl and she hugged us both! No fear! A single umuzungu is one thing, two or more is typically enough to make a kiddo shy but not this little girl. It was awesome.