“Be quiet!” said Mister Faraja, and the noise that had filled the classroom immediately hushed.
“Good morning class!”
“Good morning, Sir!”
“Let me introduce myself. My name is Faraja Musafiri. I am from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I’m married with three children. I live in Likuni, Dzaleka, and I teach English as a second language. In my spare time, I like to watch the news. I’m interested in treating sick people and it is something that I am currently studying for at university,” he said, finishing writing his name on the chalkboard. “I hope you will enjoy this class. Let’s start. Repeat after me: Good morning, my name is Faraja.”
“Good morning, my name is Faraja.”
“Great! Now, let’s go around the room and everyone introduces themselves. Stand up, say your name and share one of your hobbies. We will start with Djuma.
“My name is Djuma. I am from DR Congo. I like playing football.”
“Good boy!” said Mister Faraja. “Next!”
Konde, a little bit nervous, stood up and faced his classmates. “My name is Konde. I am from Rwanda. I like playing guitar in my free time.”
“Well done, everybody!” said Mister Faraja. “Let’s give a round of applause!” When the applause died down, Mister Faraja said, “It’s time to sit in pairs and practice the questions and answers game.”
Everyone was excited. They sat down in pairs and began practicing.
“How old are you?” asked Mwai.
“I am seventeen,” said Marie.
Djuma was just about to answer Susu’s question when Mister Faraja approached their desk. His whole body sweated and his heart pumped quickly. “I am coming from DR Congo.” Everyone burst into laughter.
”Good boy!” said Mister Faraja. “When you go home, introduce yourself to your sister and vice-versa. Practice all those questions and you will improve,” nodded his head, Djuma agreed.
“What did you think of today’s lesson,” asked Susu to Djuma on their way home.
“I liked how mister Faraja made us repeat after him, it was cool. The repeating system made me speak English for the first time. Also, the way everyone introduced oneself made me feel we were acting in a movie,” said Djuma.
“Yes! I felt like an English lady!” said Susu.
“Hey! I think we should stick to the teacher’s advice. Shall we keep practicing the introductions instead of watching the Swahili Korean series?”
“It sounds fun, but I have to finish the series. I started it and have to watch it to the end,” insisted Susu.
“Come on! we will forget the lesson we learned by then,” said Djuma.
When they reached home, Susu rushed to put on her favorite Swahili Korean series.
“Ah, I don’t want to quarrel with you, better you think about practicing the self-introduction!” said Djuma.
“Usova,” (mind your own business) said Susu. Defeated, Djuma sat down and joined Susu to watch the series.
The next morning the class was filled with excited English voices. Students repeated the previous lesson with joy and laughter.
“What is your name?” said Mwai to Papy.
“My name is Papy, and you, what is your name?”
“My name is Mwai.” They both laughed.
It was funny to experience how difficult it is to pronounce a foreign language correctly. Those from Rwanda mixed English with Kinyarwanda accent, those from Bembe tribe in DR Congo mixed English with their own accents.
“Today we will cover the present simple. The present simple states facts and general truth,” said Mister Faraja, as he wrote out a few examples on the chalkboard. “Water boils at hundred percent. The sun rises in the East.” In a confusing way, he continued, “So the present simple is used for… Uhm… Well, for things that happen… Uhm… regularly.”
“I have no idea what he is talking about,” said Marie to Papy.
As he continued explaining, Susu and some others had fallen asleep. When Mister Faraja turned around from the chalkboard he said, “Susu! Didn’t you sleep last night? Why are you sleeping in class? Your parents sent you here to learn and not to sleep. This applies to all of you who are dozing! Do you understand?”
“Yes Sir!” the whole class replied.
“Now, let’s move onto some exercises,” said Mister Faraja. “Here are a few to test your understanding. Konde! Read all these exercises, and every one must work them out, you can help one another no problem.”
“Water boils at hundred percent. The sun rises in the East. I wake up at 6:00 o’clock every morning. I go to school from Monday to Friday. I always wash my clothes on Saturdays,” said Konde.
The class felt frustrated. “I can’t believe how boring this lesson is,” whispered Papy to Marie.
“Please Sir, I don’t understand anything,” said Marie.
“It is your problem you did not follow me when I was explaining. So, find someone who understood the lesson and work together with them.”
Soon, of the fifty-seven students, only thirty-three remained, Djuma and Susu among them. When Mister Faraja left the classroom to meet his fellow teacher outside, Mwai said, “Hmmm. Something seems off with Mister Faraja’s lesson today.”
Looking thoughtfully, Marie began analyzing Mister Faraja’s teaching situation. “I think we can analyze his teaching issues by observing some few key things. He talks to the chalkboard instead of us. He doesn’t involve us in the lesson.”
“Exactly! it was as if he was revising to himself what he learned some years back!” said Konde.
“He didn’t make it as fun as yesterday’s lesson!” Mwai added.
As they were engrossed in their own conversations, Mister Faraja came back to class and collected all their works, and sent them home since it was the end of that lesson on that day.
The more enthusiastic students met up after class to find more fun and engaging ways to improve their English. The divided themselves into two groups. Standing opposite to each other, they gazed at each other, ready to discuss the present simple tense.
“We’re debating the present simple in general,” said Konde, confidently opening the debate. “So, use all the information you gathered from teacher Faraja in this debate, right?”
“Sure,” said Mwai.
“I’m going to read this card and everyone will say if they agree or not, alright?” said Konde. “The present simple is used for things that happened in the past.”
Mwai, Konde, and Marie disagreed, only Papy agreed. That caught everyone’s attention. “Yes, it is true. For example: we planned to meet today and now we are here, aren’t we?” Everyone burst into laughter, and the debate continued.
“I disagree with Papy. According to what the teacher taught us, the present simple describes habits and routines. For example: ‘I always wake up early in the morning, or our class starts at 3:00 p.m. sharp.’ That’s all I know about the present simple,” said Mwai.
“Yeah,” said Konde. “You’re right, but the present simple describes general truths as well, for example: ‘The sun rises from the East.’ That will remain true forever!”
“I think you’re all sharing interesting insights on the present simple tense,” said Marie, a humble girl with a soft voice who was shy to participate, “and I agree, except with Papy’s.”
Seated by Marie’s side, Papy gazed into her eyes and said, “I think all of you are right, and I’m wrong. I now understand how the present simple tense works: it describes general truths, habits and so on…”
“Guys, it’s getting late,” said Konde. “I think we should depart. Let’s meet tomorrow again for our next debate. We just have to decide on a topic.”
“The second degree of Comparison,” said Mwai leaning on his desk. “We should compare Beyonce’s beauty to that of Rihanna. Note that we should revise our notes before coming for a debate.”
Susu and Djuma had turned a blind eye to the after-class activities. The next day, they sat quietly at their desks, wondering how their classmates improved their English so fast. They couldn’t believe it. Djuma and Susu decided to imitate their classmates by repeating secretly after them. With a deep voice, Djuma mimicked Mwai’s intonation and accent, “Beyonce is my favorite singer, she is more beautiful than all American ladies.”
Djuma and Susu burst into laughter. The rest of the class turned to look at them. The two pretended nothing happened. Putting on a smile on her face, Susu mimicked Papy, “No! Rihanna is more beautiful than Beyonce, and I adore her very much!” Djuma and Susu had a little fun by imitating their classmates’ conversation. It was funny hearing how Susu and Djuma repeated sentences secretly after their mates.
“I like students who are noisy in English instead of in local languages,” said Mister Faraja. “Keep it up! I’m going to write some exercises on the chalkboard, and everybody has to work on them. I’ll grade it, So, don’t cheat, or I’ll disqualify you.”
Since there was a reward, students did their best. Most students understood the grammar. Only a small number who attended the debates and discussion groups knew both grammar and spoken English well.
At the end of the year, the class came together to celebrate their achievements. The school principal took the center stage, delivered a heartfelt speech, acknowledged the students’ accomplishment and their hard work throughout the learning journey.
After the speech, it was time to hand out certificates, the moment everybody had been waiting for. Each student’s name was called and they walked across the stage one by one and received a certificate from the principal. The audience applauded and cheered, celebrating the individual achievement of the graduates.
Susu, with a certificate in hand, was filled with pride. Kitumaini, Susu’s elder brother, on the other hand couldn’t ignore the reality he witnessed among numerous graduates in Dzaleka. “You dedicated years to education, but what will you do with your certificates? Will they not end up just a piece of paper like countless other graduates? Can’t you see that many graduates remain unemployed? And find themselves in the same situation as the rest of us?”
Standing beside his beautiful daughter, Baguma said, “It’s true that we don’t see the fruit of education today. But who knows what the future may bring? You’re just squandering time sitting at home playing cards. That will benefit you nothing in the future! Think twice big son! You’re waiting for resettlement. Soon you’ll fly to America, and Americans speak English! How will you communicate with people there if you don’t learn English here?”
“If we are given the opportunity to be resettled in the United States, we will learn English or continue our education there,” said Kitumaini. “In America, English is spoken and it will be simple for us to quickly catch up, so no need of wasting time, losing energy learning English!”
In the end, Baguma’s family resettled in Haven, America. Whenever friends from the camp reached out and asked for charity, they got helpless responses.
“Kitumaini, father and I have started learning English. Only Djuma and Susu got a job since they came here with some basic English skills. It’s easier for them to clearly communicate with natives. And the little money they get from work we need ourselves. We don’t have money to support you, just pray, it is only God who will assist you. Otherwise, we will assist you when we start to work. That is when we are done with the English course we are taking and the driving course which we will take after English,” was the standard reply they got from Kambete, Susu’s little brother.
One evening, Susu arrived home from the beauty salon where she worked as a hairdresser. She found her brothers struggling with the use of articles in their English homework. “You said you’ll learn when you go abroad, now go ahead!” she teased. “I remember you refused to take advice from different people when we were in Dzaleka! Now you are struggling with studying while I enjoy paid work!” The two looked at her helplessly. “Don’t expect me to help with your homework,” she continued, “I’m tired from working all day.”
“We’ll adapt the situation. What else can we do? Punish ourselves?” Kambete said.
Leaning against the wall, Kitumaini said, “So, what? We squandered our time in Dzaleka, what are you going to do about it? Just sit down!”
“Do something about it!” said Susu. “I’m making money while you are struggling with homework.”
“Enough,” intervened Baguma. “Stop quarreling, you’re not infants anymore.” They all obeyed their father’s voice, and calmed down.
From that time, Kambete and Kitumaini tried to forgive and forget their errors, and moved on with their new lives in America. And their sister, Susu stopped teasing the brothers and focused on her own business.
10 October, 2023