Students have now been with us for a couple of weeks, and i have to say that working with them is fantastic. Mostly from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, some of them travel for 50 hours by bus to get here - no air conditioning or overnight stops in bed and breakfasts! Many of them also leave families behind. Precise terms of their sponsorship vary, certainly some are living on very small amounts of money. All of which adds up to a huge commitment to the course and belief in what we have to offer. Somewhat different rules to what I'm used to apply - absolutely no problem in calling a class on Saturday morning, for example. Which is actually what I did yesterday to make up for some lost time - but, of course, the sheer thrill of doing mathematics means that it doesn't count as work either for me as tutor or the students, well known fact....
I've been told a few times now that students sometimes have difficulty understanding me. I have pointed out that I speak English from England in its highest and purest form. Indeed, I speak in a similar manner to the Queen - hurrah for Her Majesty! Curiously, this doesn't seem to help much. Although it may be that it's not my accent which is the issue so much as the speed at which I talk. Now, being a man I operate best, of course, when I'm only thinking about one thing at a time. Thinking about the continuum from good academic practice to poor academic practice to plagiarism, or the evils - the EVILS!!!!! - of teaching introductory algebra using the 'algebra as object' analogy (arbitrarily long lectures on this point available on request) and simultaneously remembering to speak slowly is a bit of a strain, to be honest. I have asked students to tell me if they're not understanding, but the rule seems to be that they tell me afterwards rather than at the time. Hopefully as time goes by this will become less of a problem at both sides.
Language continues to be a fascinating issue. One curiosity is that, when speaking English, people often use literal translations of forms of words from Swahili or other indigenous languages, which in English doesn't sound quite right. One example of this is that I was on interview panels recently, and standard practice at the beginning of the interview is that the members introduce themselves. In this context for a panel member to start by saying to the candidate, "How are you?" sounds odd, but in Swahili would make perfect sense. Another thing I've picked up relates to the way that in English we often have a large number of consonant sounds also together - 'strengths' would be an example of a a word which is light on vowel sounds. I think I'm right in saying that this is relatively unusual, other languages, tend not to do this - Mandarin Chinese would be a strong example of a language which doesn't use multiple consonants. The net effect of all of this is that I quite often hear people insert additional vowel sounds which again sounds slightly odd. Lots to learn and get used to.
If I may I'll conclude today telling you about a brief conversation with one of our security guards here in Fayrouz Apartments as I was leaving for church this morning. We exchanged greetings, and he then went on to say, with evident approval, that I always pause to say hello as I'm coming in or out of the block. Well yes, I replied, you and your colleagues do an important job in keeping us safe - and the provision of 24 hour security is for me one of the major reasons for wanting to live in a block such as this, along with a share in the communal back up generator. And I know they take their job seriously - a couple of weeks ago they refused to allow one of the drivers from work to take the car I'd been allocated from its space outside the block. Whilst this was minorly irritating at the time, they could easily have been preventing a theft.
The sadness for me here is that the security guard should find my behaviour remarkable in the literal sense of the word - behaviour worth remarking on. In defence of people who do not do this, I would say that the sheer quantity of potential interactions with people - security guards, cleaners, care takers, gardeners, taxi drivers when walking along a street, and also street hawkers and beggars - means that the line of least resistance is to disengage, and I do find myself doing this in some situations.
Pastor Abel was preaching from 1 Corinthians 12 this morning, and highlighted verse 13, "For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink". Pastor Abel's vision for Dar Es Salaam Pentecostal is that the fellowship is open to all, irrespective of economic circumstances, ethnic background or any other division between us. This represents both an opportunity and a challenge in a country where differences between rich and poor are far greater than I'm used to, and being aligned at the rich end presents challenges of its own.
To readers who have got this far in this entry with a Christian or other faith, can I ask that you pray for me that I may live in this wonderful country in a God-fearing manner, reflecting something of His love in my interactions with people in my daily life in a genuine and sustainable way. And to readers with no faith, can I ask you stand with me in your thoughts as we look to recognise and respect the spark of humanity in all.
As I'm writing this, I realise with some embarrassment that I don't know our security guard's name. I'll find out and let you know. Thank you for reading, I'll be back again soon.