With my current lack of brain power, I expected my Swahili would take a hit, that the sluggishness I feel in English would mean remedial Swahili. Yet, the opposite has been true. I am unable to focus in English. (Posts like these ones which posted recently were written before Red Twin died.) But my brain works fine in Swahili.
Ask me how I feel in English and I will say numb, because I don’t know. There are emotions there but they are often beyond my articulation. But when I am speaking in Swahili it’s not about me. It’s the other person’s language. Even if I’m speaking about Red Twin or myself, it’s focused on the other person in a way unique to my Swahili brain. I’m consciously following conventions and inhabiting a more communal space, such that personal expression or processing takes a back seat.
Those conventions are useful to me. Here at least is a task, and one I know how to do. Meanwhile the gears of my English brain clunk, slowed down by processing in an unfamiliar world.
Maybe it’s a distraction too. I first got into aerobics when I had a terribly stressful job, and found that half an hour where all I could think about was breathing and where my feet were was a relief. Maybe because Swahili requires a similar concentration, but in a world disconnected from my emotional pain, it’s become similarly immersive.
Whatever the reason, Swahili has become a kind of a safe space for me right now, a refuge of sorts. I’ve been surprised by that.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.