Saturday, March 21, 2015

Not limited to “Bonjour!”


Greetings from Kinshasa!  We began our French language learning last week and are making good progress.  On Tuesday, however, I hit a wall.  I was terribly discouraged.  My teacher/tutor didn’t seem sympathetic, or patient.  From experience I knew that going out and practicing some simple texts (French phrases) would be helpful, but I felt intimidated.   

I shared my feelings with Kristi.  She encouraged me and prayed for me.  I resolved to go out and practice.  I put together a short text whereby I would introduce myself, express my goal of learning French, and ask how long the person had been living in this quartier (quarter).  I started with an “easy target,”  Aisha, the guard of the home where we are staying.  He was chatty and I learned a few new things about his life.  Just 100 feet away I found three men sitting under a tree – Sabalo, Fabrice and Ekofo.  There were surprised and pleased that I stopped to speak with them.  

I then descended into a livelier, poorer section. I stopped by a small shop where I met Serge Muanda.  He seemed rather reticent initially.  However, as I worked through my French phrases, he warmed up and the conversation went very well.  I said goodbye and found my way up again to higher ground.  There, sitting across the way from a palatial home, I met Moises Tshionyi.  Moises was upbeat.  I quickly learned that he is a guard of the compound, serves as an evangelist, lives a ways away in a very populated commune, and is originally from Mbuji-Mayi.  I had to discipline myself to not speak Tshiluba but to engage him in French.  He was gracious and we had a wonderful encounter.  My confidence was growing with each experience.  This was fun!

My second to last conversation that day has proven the most interesting.  On a street corner I met Junior Mfenge selling phone units. I went through my text and he was responsive.  I later learned that he is  a medical student at the Protestant University of Congo and his father died about five years ago.  Yesterday Junior visited us, and just this afternoon we went with him to visit him mother in the bustling commune of Lemba.  Tomorrow we will go with Junior to the French service of the large Protestant Cathedral.   

Sitting with Junior (left), his Mother Mamu Marie Kitoto (right)
his sister Omba, and his niece Pelagie

Junior treated us to cokes and labored with us through our
halting and semi-certain French….

Today I am giving thanks.  Kristi and I have strengthened our foundation in French.  Moreover, in a short amount of time we are feeling like “belongers” in the little pocket of Kinshasa where we are currently residing.  As we learned in seminary in our Language Learning and Mission class, language learning is a social, not just an academic activity.  Resources for the successful language learner are people, rather than just books.  Today as we sat with Junior and his mother and sister and niece and drank sodas, I had three people helping me pronounce the word “renouveler” (to renew).  It was a bit humbling, but I am no longer limited to bonjour and a smattering of French words and phrases. 

Français – c’est bon!  


Foxfire said...

Well do I remember learning French in Belgium. I lived in a private home and sat at a large dining table next to an elderly, retired math teacher. The first morning she said "bon jour" to me and i had no idea what she said or how to respond. She took me under her wing and helped me a lot, through periods of conversation each week. I came to love her dearly.

Jean McAllister said...

Wow! this is so great, Bob and Kristi! I think it's a huge challenge to move beyond the "filter" of the language you use most of the time, Tsiluba, and let the new, and very different, sounds and shapes of words in. I studied French academically for years, but after focusing initially and continuously on Kinyarwanda, my French retreated behind that filter, and it's almost impossible to recall it. Good for you! Courage!