Monday, September 24, 2012

Bala-ala. Tongana nye?

How do we communicate with people?  There are, of course, many ways – studies have even shown that 80% of communication is nonverbal – but one of the most visible and important is language.  That’s why I will be going to Bohong shortly to learn Sango.  Bohong is a small town about 35 km. north of Bouar which is 2 hours east of Baboua (my town).  The title of this entry is in Sango – “Hello to you all.  How are you?”  So why do I need to learn Sango when I already speak French??

French is the colonial language.  That means that a lot of government business, secondary schools, and other businesses use French.  It is an official language in the Central African Republic. People, however, don’t learn French until they go to school.  Most primary schools begin instruction in Sango and students then learn French.  Too many children, though, never get the change to go to school, so they don’t learn French.  The literacy rate is between 50 and 60% (depending on which reference you check).  That means almost ½ the population cannot read and write in any language and are unlikely to know French.  This number includes a disproportionate number of girls and women.

Also, Sango is the national African language in CAR.  It is rare in Africa that there is one African language in a country that most everyone speaks and can be an official language.  Why?  Well, there are about 55 countries in Africa, but each has many ethnic groups that speak their own language.  Wikipedia says that there are over 2100 and by some counts over 3000 languages spoken in Africa!  When the colonizing countries (like France here) divided the area into countries, they intentionally drew the lines so that ethnic groups were split.  (Divide and continue to control??)  A major result is that most countries do not have one African language and do not want to choose one because it would give too much power and prestige to that ethnic group.  So, CAR has one language – what a resource!  I have been told that since Sango was the language of commerce even before the French came, everyone learned to speak it. 

Now imagine this:  children are born and begin to learn their maternal language (the one for their ethnic group).  Not too long after that, they learn Sango.  All of these languages are oral, by the way. They have now been written down as missionaries worked to translate the Bible into their languages.  If there are other ethnic groups in the area, children also learn those.  Then, if they have the chance, children go to school and learn French.  If they continue beyond elementary school, they study English or some other European language!  (And, we from the USA are resistant to learning any language other than English!  We all have the capacity; too bad we don’t all take advantage…)

I am learning Sango, therefore, to be able to talk to people in their own language – to better understand their world view.  In working with the directors of the education programs of the church and even in working with teachers, I will speak French, for the most part.  But, when working with parents and leaders in villages, Sango will be essential.  Also, when I have the opportunity to be in elementary classrooms, the primary language will be Sango. 

I am going to another town to have more contact with Central Africans.  My next-door neighbors in Baboua are from the US (great temptation to speak English!) and the offices for the programs with which I will be working (temptation to speak French).  I hope, too, by being immersed in the culture for a month, I will be able to learn other cultural aspects, especially nonverbal communication.  I will keep my ears open, but also my eyes and all my other senses.

A little about Bohong:  ELLRCA (Église Évangélique Luthérienne-République Centrafricaine) has a medical clinic in the village.  Many women come for pre- and post-natal care and for the birth of their children.  They also have rooms for in-and out-patient care.  It is highly prized.  In the early 2003s when there was a problem with rebels/bandits in the area, twice villagers took the medical equipment and supplies and hid them (in their houses and elsewhere) so that they were not stolen! 

Also on the station is a school for girls, a guest house, and the office of a program designed to help villages address environmental issues, including food security (having enough to eat for the entire year).  It is set in a gorgeous area which is very green now in the rainy season.

I will be staying in the guest house.  Here are a few pictures of that house and what is around in.  Wouldn’t you like to come and join me?!?  

Living Room of the Guest House

Guest House with Porch

Another Part of the Bohong Station

View from the Guest House

I am now driving – on a limited basis, but on the road literally!  I drove around Bouar a little – roads not paved and
so-so.  Then I drove part of the way between Bouar and Baboua – 95% paved road.  I got up into 5th gear even- 50 – 55 mph.  That is the speed limit and, although others drive faster, I am content to go more slowly just now.  I am not yet ready to drive from Bouar to Bohong since the road is generally bad.  When we went a few days ago, the driver was able to get into 3rd gear for stretches ~25 mph, but also spent a lot of time in 1st and 2nd gear, sometimes going about 2 kmh…  I could do the driving by going slowly, but don’t yet want to be on my own in case there would be a problem. 


  1. Hello Susan!

    I'm trying to figure out how this works so if you get more than one comment from me know that it's because I'm hitting the wrong icons.

    I'm glad to hear that things are going well. I'm enjoying your blog and wonder if it's OK to copy some of your posts to use in newsletters, etc.?

    I'll see what I can do about the PLUM T-shirt.

    Grace and peace,

  2. The place looks beautiful and worth staying. Enjoy your stay there and I would recommend to drive carefully and slowly so that there is less chance of being on your own. Stay safe and enjoy!