Peter Moshapa is giving me lessons in Setswana. He is one of my students, but today we reverse roles.
I have identified portions of the liturgy of the Holy Eucharist that I want to be able to say in Setswana. Well, actually, I want to be able to say all of it in Setswana, but that’s exceedingly unlikely. What I’ve done is identify sections that I have some reasonable hope of managing.
Morena a nne le lona, I begin. ‘The Lord be with you.’ Bakang Morena. ‘Praise the Lord.’ Go sego Modimo, Rara, Morwa le Mowa o o Boitshepo. ‘Blessed by God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ A re rapeleng. ‘Let us pray.’
I write them out in my own weird version of phonetics. As I do so, I wonder why a ‘g’ in Setswana sometimes sounds like an ‘h’. And why, in Boitshepo, is there an ‘h’ at all, since it is pronounced ‘say,’ not ‘shay’? But Peter does not give me time to speculate. He has me repeat a sentence, then I listen to him say it, then I repeat it again. And again. When it comes to the Peace, he even has me stand up, raise my hands, and say in a loud voice, A kagiso ya Morena e nne le lona ka metlha. I lose my place.
He is an excellent, patient teacher. Annoying, but excellent. He’s annoying in that I have gotten into this enthusiastically, and I am ready to move to the next sentence, and the next. But, no. After five or six sentences, Peter says, ‘let’s go back to the beginning and go through this again.’ After ten or twelve sentences, he says again, ‘let’s go back to the beginning.’ I have sixteen sections on my list, and I wonder if we’ll get to the last.
I also realize that what he is doing is what good teachers do.
And we do make it through, and Peter is very encouraging, even when I continue to flounder with the most difficult word I come across. I’m trying to say the Sursum corda, ‘Lift up your hearts.’ In Setswana it begins with Tlhatlosang. The ‘tlh’ mysteriously becomes a guttural ‘klah’, and the next ‘tl’ sounds like a guttural ‘clue.’ If I can make it that far I’m home free: the sang sounds pretty much like our English word. But I find it hard to make it that far.
At home I take out my bilingual prayer book and write my phonetic spelling over the Setswana sentences, and I sit on my balcony in late afternoon, reading them aloud over and over again.
I’ve already told Peter Moshapa that I hope he will work with me again next week.