Kiswahili: A Language Connecting Past and Present
The 7 July of each year is celebrated as World Kiswahili Language Day. Kiswahili, a language with a rich history and widespread usage, has garnered global recognition for its cultural significance and role in fostering unity and understanding among diverse communities. As the first African language to be officially acknowledged by the United Nations, Kiswahili holds a special place in promoting multilingualism and intercultural dialogue. With its influences from various regions, Kiswahili has evolved into a language spoken by over 200 million people across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.
Many of our OLA Sisters have learned to speak Kiswahili to support their work. After completing her studies in Maynooth, Ireland, at the end of 2021, Sr Patience Ezimigbo, a Nigerian-born OLA Sister, embarked on a new mission in Tanzania. Patience shares her experience of learning Kiswahili below.
Embracing Kiswahili: My Journey in Tanzania
I arrived in Tanzania on January 12, 2022. Sr Celestina Ikpeni warmly welcomed me at the airport, and together we travelled to the Mwanza community where Sr Regina extended a warm welcome as well. It was a short stay with the sisters in Mwanza, as the next day I travelled to Mwamapalala in the company of Srs Theresa Robert and Elizabeth. As we arrived in Mwamapalala, I heard people greeting me but could not understand what they were saying. I was like a child learning how to speak; thank God my sisters were around to make me as comfortable as possible. The next day I journeyed to Mwamapalala accompanied by Sr Theresa Robert and Sr Elizabeth. Upon our arrival in Mwamapalala, I heard people greeting me, but I could not understand what they were saying. I felt like a child learning how to speak. Thanks to God that my sisters were there to make me as comfortable as possible. In that moment, I resolved by the grace of God to learn Swahili, since it is the primary means of communication.
The time came to begin learning Kiswahili and I had to move to Bugisi on the fourth day of my arrival as the language course had begun. Within the space of seven days, I have stayed in three OLA communities in Tanzania. It was a great privilege and I appreciated the process. I arrived in Bugisi and was welcomed by the sisters. The next day in the company of Sr Leticia who is on mission to Tanzania and also learning the language, we walked down to our classroom, where I met three SMA brothers and our teacher, Mwalimu Joakim. That day it was like I was in a nursery school learning how to pronounce words, and truly we were. I remember answering ‘oui’ when I was called by our teacher instead of ‘ndio’. All through the course I found myself either saying things in French or Hausa. It was a challenging time but it was also a fun time.
On April 14, I returned to Mwamapalala to officially begin my mission. Although I was still learning Kiswahili, I started teaching English and religion in the government primary school. Through my experiences in learning Swahili, I have developed a greater empathy for children who are learning to speak English. Even though they have classes in English, they still struggle to speak in English. As I teach them to speak in English, I also continue to improve my Swahili. Every day, I learn new words or I am reminded of words I have already learned at my language school. I am happy I am teaching at the government school because they often do not get to experience the “touch” of missionaries. I am acutely aware of the poverty and poor infrastructure, and I believe that my presence brings them joy, knowing they are part of the people we are reaching out to. While I have established my presence in the Basic Christian community, I am also involved with the women and youth in the parish. It is a work in progress.