As dawn breaks over West Africa, our small village comes to life and simultaneously, my children wake up. When we moved to Africa to start our long-term ministry, we decided that for us, language and culture learning would be most efficient if we lived in the middle of the people whose language we were learning, sharing every part of life with them. So here we are, sharing a mud compound with eleven other people, and living in the middle of everything in every respect. This has many perks, such as the fact that since we moved I never once overslept my alarm. Things like that have a way of making a person feel quite accomplished - an instant morning person, just what I always wanted. Never mind the fact that it's not exactly voluntary.

It seems that my kids always wake up famished and the scramble for breakfast starts immediately. My cooking happens on charcoal and I'm relieved that the grandmother of the family already has a fire blazing, so my breakfast preparations get a nice kickstart. Meanwhile, my husband huddles around a little fire outside of the compound with the other men. The kids love the little fire... My oldest (4) gathers armfuls of grass and sticks and soon the fire is not so little anymore. The temperatures in dry season drop to all of sixty in the mornings... and if the days are up to 100 F that really does feel cold!  No complaints from me. I am putting some water on my fire to make myself some coffee... It's not real coffee, of course, but even instant will help to sustain my not so convincing morning person-persona.

By now, my brain is starting to wake up as well and I mentally prepare for another day of language. I have discovered a strange and interesting phenomenon. Language learning makes me feel so weird... Like a split person... Like almost schizophrenic...or maybe I should just say, it's a real roller coaster. Two sides of me-one saying: wow! I am learning this language! And the other one: I will never. ever. learn this language. These two me's flip back and forth all day long, sometimes from one minute to the next. Buckle your seatbelt for language learning... It is fun, it is hard, it is exciting and it is boring.

A lady walks into the compound with a large bucket on her head... Selling morning porridge. Thankful that I don't have to think about what to make, I buy several calabash dippers full and my oldest is happy. We were on a short 5 month missions trip in Africa when she was a baby starting on solids, and African foods are her comfort foods. Quite convenient for me. I complete the transaction and some small talk... Wow! I am learning this language! I utilize my fire to cook beans for lunch instead.

After breakfast, I take my bucket and head to the pump for water, the girls trailing behind me. This is where the women of the village hang out. Several conversations fill the air. I scramble to pick up even one word. How will I EVER learn this language? One of the ladies comes over and greets me and I am able to respond correctly and answer her questions about my plans for the day. Maybe I AM learning. Then it's my turn at the pump... And to carry it home. No matter how hard I try, this I WILL not learn, ever. I need both hands, tightly, while my neighbor girl waltzes by with eight gallons on her head, unsupported. Ah well. Know your limits.

One of my friends stops by and I grab the chance for some more language while my girls play. We get on the topic of tone... Words that are identical except for their tone. I can't even.... and I will NEVER.

After doing some wash, which I do almost daily to avoid the depressing sight of a mountain that needs to be washed by hand, it's lunchtime. This always comes sooner than I expect and is signalled by a sudden contagious meltdown among the kids. I am grateful I have beans cooked and we make a quick lunch of those. I'm not sure where my husband is.... Off with the village men either farming or hunting. The great advantage of living in a community like this is that wherever he is, someone will feed him lunch so I don't worry about it. We read a book and then it's naptime... My 1.5 year old quickly falls asleep on the cool cement floor and my 4-year old plays by herself on a mat. Now is my time to study. But I'm exhausted so the next thing I know is waking up. Oh dear, I will never learn this language... What AM I going to do?! The baby's still out so I take the moment to wash my dirty dishes out in a bowl in the compound. Some of the women have just come back from farm and are discussing their day. Without realizing it, I understand and ask a few questions. Oh wow, look, I'm learning after all... Are power naps language learning tools...? I think I will choose to believe so. 

The girls are both up now and we head out of the compound so they can play in the shade under the trees. I take my phone out to listen to language recordings I have made. But constant little-people-interruptions make me give up. Hopeless, this language. Then I hear my little girls fighting, using about as much English as our tribal language. I smile under my hand and resolve to LEARN this language lest even my own children get the best of me.

It's time to start making supper and to bathe some unbelievably dirty little children. We don't have electricity so I try to get things done before dark. My husband is back and I gratefully accept his offer to wash the girls,  because he's got both more patience and more determination to clean them up as well as possible. For however long it will last. I love evening time... We just swept the compound so it's nice and tidy, everyone's busy cooking and bathing in the outdoor stalls and talking, always talking. I remember that this is why we chose to live this way. To really be a part of things - and to be surrounded by language. The air is smoky, the sun sets red into the bush, and I'm in love with our life.

Now for supper. I am going to make the staple dish of cornmeal mush tonight, just like everyone else. My new grandmother has spent a lot of time teaching me how, but even yet, I'm a whole lot more awkward at it than even the young girls and that is funny. Except not really funny to me. Forget it, what we need is a house far away from anyone so i can just cook in peace! Then an old lady walks into the compound. 'Nemoti! (my new name) you are making tizet?' and she turns to our house grandmother and says - 'Then she is really trying to be like us!' - and up swings the roller coaster, over the little mud huts and the grass roofs, over the dirt and the smoke, to a glorious height right into the sunset. Let tomorrow come as may... I am going to try to stay in this precarious little spot just for tonight.

 

Hey, TCKmoms, this is our final "Day in the Life". Hasn't it been fun to get a peek into each other's lives? If any of you didn't participate in the giveaway but would still like to write a "Day in the Life" I'd love to hear from you!! You can fill out the email form here, or you can simply click "reply" if you're receiving this as an email. I also welcome questions, suggested topics, recipes, stories, and guest posts from our readers!

 

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  • Wow...you depicted the roller coaster of language learning so well!! I'm in the thick of it too right now, and I can so totally identify...one moment feeling like it's hopeless, I haven't gotten anywhere in all this time and I'm sure I never will...and the very next moment feeling elated that I just carried on a smooth conversation, or realizing that I'm actually understanding a lot more of what goes on around me than I used to. One moment feeling like a foreigner far from home, and the next feeling that wonderful feeling of BELONGING...here...now.

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