“Self” is a prism of directionless ambiguity, yet it drives us.
We view the world through it, yet fail to understand how that same world shapes it.
“Self” is developed by the same personal and societal forces it is called to interpret.
We cannot perceive the world until we perceive our selves.
I think I have the most beautiful daughter in the world. Just check out this picture from Halloween:
Every chance I get, I tell her she is beautiful. Beth and I constantly ask ourselves, “Honestly, could she get any cuter?” I feel like we were playing Russian Roulette with my looks being in the gene pool, and luckily she turned out pretty good looking (if in 10 years she has a uni-brow and a beard, you know who to blame).
But I will be honest with you, sometimes I worry about her being so beautiful. Will she grow up and be vain? Will she have difficulty understanding inner beauty because she always possessed outer beauty? If (when) her outer beauty fades, will she allow it to bother her?
I ask these questions but at the end of the day I don’t really worry about them. That’s because Mikayla has an amazing personality for a baby. She is content and inquisitive. She would rather smile than cry. She enjoys company and can play alone.
In fact, instead of worrying about her, I have found she has many things she can teach me.
- The joy of discovery – I am going to take credit for her constant fascination with everything around her. I am pretty sure she gets spirit of inquiry from me. However, whereas I usually approach things with a great deal of skepticism, Mikayla also approaches new things with joy and wonder. She is excited about every new thing…. even when it turns out she does not like it (like with avocados). Sometimes my own questioning brings about negativity. I wish I were more like Mikayla and could find joy in every question and discovery.
- Approach everything with a smile – Mikayla’s first response to a situation is to smile. It doesn’t matter if it is her mother reaching for her, or someone she has never met. She is always happy to see you. This is even true of things that might threaten her. Our dog sometimes get skitish when Mikayla is on the floor. Sometimes Shiloh will bark at her. Still though, she smiles and laughs and loves. If only I were so accepting.
- Explore your possibilities, but be content where you are – Mikayla is usually very happy where ever she is, whether it in her crib, on the floor, in someone’s arms, or in her car seat. At the same time though, she is always looking around and exploring every nook and cranny. However, she does not allow that inquiry to make her discontent. She wants to know what’s on the other side of the crib, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy it there. Mikayla uses the discovery process to better understand her current situation – not simply to try and replace it. I wish I could have such an attitude.
- Let people know when you are hurting and how they can help – Beth and I have learned Mikayla’s various cries. She lets us know when she is hungry or tired or has gas or when she just wants to be held. She is able to tell us how we can help her. Looking at myself, that is something I need to do better. Even when I know I am hurting, it is rare for me to let people into my world so they can know how they can help me.
- There is plenty we can learn from babies. Unfortunately instead of letting them teach us, we all to often try to make them see things our way. I hope in the years to come I can be a loving and effective teacher for my beautiful daughter, but more importantly, I hope I can always be her student and let her constantly teach me.
Every new parent comments on how quick their baby grows up. It is true. In 6 months Mikayla has doubled in size and transformed from being a fully dependant infant who couldn’t even keep her head up, to being an inquisitive, alert baby who now eats solid foods and always seems to be in a good mood.
Along the way we have taken a few pictures of her with a stuffed giraffe so we could better appreciate her transformation. (Beth has some earlier shots here.) Here is where we have come from and where we are:
Go ahead… carve out 3 hours from your day. You are going to want to watch this. The following is a three part documentary produced by Adam Curtis and originally aired on the BBC. It follows the philosophical underpinnings that have guided the way we understand the world for the past century and how that has affected everything from foreign policy to personal health to our notion of productivity. The whole series hinges on how we understand the concepts of freedom and liberty. This is quite timely given the political climate of the day and the obvious disconnect between various wings of society. I have embedded a YouTube playlist for each episode so you can watch it through. I have also included notes on each episode… but trust me, you want to watch the whole thing.
Episode 1 – Fuck You Buddy
I am sorry if the title offends you (if it makes things better… I was introduced to this documentary through a seminary class that required we watch it). The title comes from an experiment developed by John Nash (the lead character in A Beautiful Mind) which supposed that the world operated best when people were selfish. This segment details how game theory and other mathematical formulas convinced the world that the best way to view humanity was through a lens of suspicion where all people were obviously in it for themselves and every decision was motivated by self-interest and preservation. This was the dominate mindset in the Cold War Era. When we approach the whole world through a lens of distrust, it is amazing (and unfortunate) how we view society.
Episode 2 – The Lonely Robot
In this episode Curtis continues to explore our desire for society and people to be predictable. Perhaps it is a desire to understand, or perhaps it is a desire to control. He looks at the development of the mental health field and our own understanding of what it means to be “normal.” From here he explores the consequences of a world where everyone strives for an ideal that is, at best, arbitrary. Curtis follows how this emphasis on standards spiraled out of control in a vain attempt to maximize productivity in all sectors… even if the measurements were pure conjecture. These ideas (however flawed) were monumental in ushering in a new understanding of the free market.
Episode 3 – We will Force you to be Free
After exploring the way we view ourselves and human nature, Curtis begins in earnest to explore our ideas of freedom. Specifically he examines the concepts of Negative Liberty and Positive Liberty as made popular by Isaiah Berlin. Negative Liberty is a freedom from coercion while Positive Liberty is the freedom to achieve one’s true potential. The prior has been deemed the “safest” because the later has historically required force and oppression to bring about. However, following the path of negative liberty to its logical conclusions, as governments have done in the West for the past 50 years, results in a society without meaning populated only by selfish automatons. The answer then must be a peaceful pursuance of Positive Liberty.
Adam Curtis has always been known for producing provocative documentaries. I am sure he overstates some items in this program and under reports others. However, this program forces the viewer to examine the way in which they view the world and requires them to acknowledge how their understanding of society affects their interactions with it.
My wife is usually the one who makes posts about recipes, but tonight I cooked up something of my own that was worth posting. We were wanting some hot chocolate and lamenting the fact that all we had was raw cocoa powder and most recipes we found online were fairly complex. So we improvised and things turned out really well. Here is what we came up with.
- 3 1/2 cups milk
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
Combine all the ingredients into a 1 quart Nalgene bottle (obviously wide-mouth is the way to go) righten the lid and shake. After all ingredients are mixed, unscrew the lid but leave it in place. Microwave for 3-4 minutes until hot. Serve in mugs with marshmallows. Enjoy.
Of course the Nalgene just makes things easier. You could always mix the ingredients in a container of your choosing and serve it however you want.
[UPDATED: 11 June 2013]
Beth and I have been in Swaziland for almost two years; unfortunately we did not prioritize learning siSwati so our progress was minimal. However, over the couple months, I have really committed to learning. Since I am in the process, it is easier to comment on good resources.
Swaziland uses English in business and governmental settings, but siSwati is considered the native tongue. Since only one million people speak it as a first language (3 Million overall), it has been a bit difficult to find helpful resources. It is hard enough (impossible) to find a local speaker in the US, let alone a teacher or lessons. Thus, we have first looked into online and print resources. I hope this list is helpful for other people who may be in a similar situation trying to learn siSwati.
The following links give background and general information on the language:
- South African Languages | siSwati
- Swati language – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- African Languages – Siswati (Swati)
- SISWATI – Brochure from University of Wisconson
Peace Corp Material:
By far the most current and widely available material comes from the Peace Corp. They provide a pre-departure pack that includes a study manual and accompanying MP3s. I have provided links below.
- siSwati Language Lessons
- Introduction MP3
- Lesson 1 MP3
- Lesson 2 MP3
- Lesson 3 MP3
- Lesson 4 MP3
- Lesson 5 MP3
- Lesson 6 MP3
- Lesson 7 MP3
- Lesson 8 MP3
The above material is the most current, but it is not the most comprehensive. You can also benefit from their older publications.
- siSwati Language Handbook – Download from ERIC, Published 1980, 116 pages.
- Understanding and Speaking siSwati – Download from ERIC, Published 1969, 449 pages.
The Peace Corp has also just released a new manual for its Swaziland Volunteers and it is very nice. It is a great mix of useful information, important phrases and essential grammar. It is the best resource I have found that pulls together what you need to begin learning siSwati. Unfortunately it has not been publicly released, although if you send me an email, I will try to point you in the right direction. If Peace Corp puts it out for general use, I will certainly link to it here.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to come across a single print resource that effectively pulls together everything you need to learn the language (especially if you are trying to teach yourself.) However, I have found these three books, when used together, provide a great base to build on. I have provided links to the Amazon and Google Books pages so you can get the details on the books (ISBN, book cover, etc.)
- Handbook of siSwati – Published 1991, 175 pages. This is a course book for classes at UNISA and thus takes a more academic approach. This is where you are going to learn about grammatical structure and parsing. (Amazon | Google)
- Essential siSwati – Published 1981, revised 1990, 80 pages. This is a basic phrasebook designed to be a quick reference. It also includes stem charts. It is a great companion to understand how actual siSwati phrases are formed. Some of the phrases are a bit dated. (Amazon | Google)
- Concise siSwati Dictionary – Neither of the above books do a good job of teaching vocabulary, so you really need a dictionary. Just know that because of the way siSwati works, you have to have a basic understanding of the language before you can even use this. It too is an older resource and some of the words are “Deep siSwati” instead of daily use. (Amazon | Google)
I have seen all of these books in Swaziland (Websters in Manzini has had all three, CNA in Mbabane and Manzini usually have least couple of them). We were also able to find them online, but we had to search around for them. Besides Amazon (US), here are a couple other places you can look:
Of course to learn siSwati (or any language) you first need to memorize vocab and prefixes/suffixes. I have tried many different options in the past, but recently discovered Anki. It is an easy-to-use flashcard program that works on computers and mobile devices. If you use your computer or Android, it is free (iTunes charges a small fee). It uses algorithms to focus your study time on new and difficult words while stilling keeping the words you know in your memory. You can find out more on the Anki Website.
The best way to learn is to create the “deck” of anki cards yourself, but if you want to go with a short cut, I have upload an excel sheet of 550 siSwati words and phrases from my anki deck. It took me about two months to learn these at 30 minutes per day.
Everyone is going to learn their own way, but I found it helpful to prioritize these words into 3-4 groups based on importance and frequency (and upload in appropriate batches). Then I focuses seeing the siSwati and knowing the English. As I got used to these words, I added the English word and had to supply the siSwati. (This is easily accomplished by simply typing selecting the “Show Reverse” option on appropriate cards.)
It took me about two months to learn these by using Anki 30 minutes per day. That base allows me to pick up key words in conversation and also have the most basic of conversations (assuming you know some grammar rules to accompany it).
Knowing vocabulary is useless if you can’t put it together into meaningful sentences (or be able to parse sentences given to you.) Learning the grammar is way outside the scope of this post, but I can tell you that to have a basic understanding of siSwati, you have to understand noun prefixes, pronouns, subject concords and object concords. If that already makes sense to you (or you are willing to learn from the books listed above), then this siSwati Cheat Sheet might be helpful.
Another resource to look into once you begin getting a basic understanding is YouTube. There are several videos posted in siSwati (mostly religious) which will be helpful in practicing comprehension. This one is particularly helpful because it includes English subtitles: Thandiwe
I had the opportunity to talk with a headmaster at a school in Swaziland. I asked him which resources he would recommend and here is what he had to say:
The best book (if you can obtain it) is from the Sebenta National Institute called ‘siSwati Setfu’ translated ‘Our siSwati’ and was a joint venture publication between the Sebenta National Institute and the US Government, under contract no. 79-042-100.
I have not been able to track it down, but if you do, please let me know where.
Hopefully the above resources will be helpful if you are one of the very few who want to teach yourself siSwati. I will continue to update this post as I find more.