This week we worked with our Arabic helper to create a ‘text’ for a conversation about family. We learned to briefly introduce each other, say that we have no children, and describe our families in the US. We then would ask about the other person’s family – are they married? Do they have children? Are their parents living, and where? Do they have brothers and sisters? We recorded our language teacher saying all of this, so that we could listen to his pronunciation when we practiced and mimic it. We rehearsed with each other, pretending to be various people. All of this working up to going out in the neighborhood to practice.
But going out in the neighborhood to practice a text feels intimidating sometimes. Will we draw a crowd? Will I understand what people are saying to me? Can I make this a real conversation, not just repeating memorized lines to get through it? So this morning we prayed that God would lead us to the right people, and make this an encouraging experience. And we reminded ourselves that our goal in learning Juba Arabic is to connect with people – to be able to communicate and understand them.
As we headed out this morning, we saw Mary, one of the ladies who cleans our apartment, as we were going down the stairs. We asked if we could talk to her about family, and Bob launched into the text. People passed by on the stairs and some of the security guards came to join the conversation. These are people we know and see regularly, and all of them are excited that we are learning Arabic, so it was an encouraging place to start.
Kristi with two women who work in our apartment building – our favorite conversation partners!
Then, we took the plunge, heading across the street to an outdoor market area. We were able to engage a few of the venders, learning their names and now learning a little about their families. We found Mary, a woman we had met before who has a tea stall, sitting with some of her customers. Once we started greeting them in Arabic, we were kind of a novelty and they were eager to talk. We introduced ourselves, and began our discussion about family. Some responded with long explanations about what their children were doing or the challenges of life, and we were quickly lost. We’ve only been studying Arabic for a whopping three weeks now!
We decided to stop for tea at Mary’s stall. This provided an opportunity to get to know her a bit more. As we sipped our tea and coffee, other customers came into the stall, and joined the conversation. Bob was able to talk to a policeman who sat next to him, who is based at the police station right next to our apartment. Mary does not speak English, but we were pleasantly surprised at how much we were able to understand with our limited Arabic. As we ask people about their families, we are often confronted with the hard reality that many of their family members have died in South Sudan’s long conflict, or that their children or siblings are far away, living in a refugee camp. But hearing those sad things from an individual puts a personal face on this tragic environment and helps us to come to understand the daily struggles people face here. We came back home after an hour encouraged and grateful that God had answered our prayers. Please continue to pray for good conversations and relationships as we go out to practice Arabic, and also for Bob’s energy to continue to improve so that we can go out more often to practice.