During Phase II of training, I, along with many other volunteers, realized that the majority of our communities don’t actually speak Portuguese. Considering I had devoted pretty much every minute of Phase I to learning Portuguese, it was slightly disappointing not being able to communicate with the majority of my community, but I was excited to get back to training to being taking classes in the local language spoken at my site, Emakhuwa.
According to the Wikipedia page on Emakhuwa, it is spoken by 4 million people, making it the most popular indigenous language of Mozambique. Although I had learned a couple of words during Phase II, I was hoping that coming back to training and having a more formal learning setting would make it easier to learn, because I had found it incredibly difficult to learn much from my host mãe at site, despite her best attempts to teach me every day. Before starting our local language lessons this week, I only really knew a handful of words: maasi (water), wiina (dance), and kooxukurela (thank you).
After a week of local language classes I have learned basic greetings, how to present myself, how to conjugate the verb “to be,” and…… that’s about it. Turns out that local languages are just hard to learn. Aside from having basically no similarities to English or Portuguese, it seems that pretty much every important word we have learned in Emakhuwa is one letter away from meaning something totally different, and figuring out the difference in pronunciation is basically impossible for me. For example, otthuna means to want, while othuna is an insult related to the cultural practice of stretching women’s genitals that is so offensive that our professor wouldn’t even say the word.
Despite the difficulties, I have enjoyed parts of these lessons. My favorite thing that we have learned in Emakhuwa is the word for black mamba. These snakes are pretty common in Northern Moz and will kill you in like 10 minutes if you’re bitten, so people are rightfully pretty scared of them. The word for black mamba is nikalattapo, but after dark, it is believed that if you say this word a black mamba will come and bite you while you sleep, so you have to say akhulupale, which roughly translates to “a thing very big.” When our professor told us this story, we couldn’t help but begin joking that black mambas are the Voldemort of Mozambique.
Hopefully Kathryn and I will be able to find someone willing to tutor us in local language, because with only 10 days (!!!) left of training, I think I’m going to need a lot more help before I start having conversations in Emakhuwa.