My tutoring session starts out with a rousing round of peek-a-boo sessions with three year old Arthur from behind the couch cushions. He remembers me from last year and I’m grateful because having small children scream and cry at the sight of my skin gets old after a while.
Arthur’s mom, Olive, enters. She’s the cousin-sister of my son Opiyo Martin and the sister to, Lydia, one of our Work Study scholars. Olive is tall, beautiful and dressed immaculately, as are most young women here. When she smiles, she lights up the room. Olive is a single mom who lives at home with her parents.
Though she participated in her final year (senior 6) of high school last year, she didn’t have the money to sit for final exams and so she has to do her senior 6 year again. The whole year. It’s one of the many things that frustrates me about the educational system in Uganda.
So Olive is earning money to pay for her school fees to try senior 6 again. Today that means she’s my language teacher. Poor thing.
Olive is tasked with helping me write speeches for some of the villages and schools I’ll be visiting. Each speech feels progressively more difficult and my tongue consistently refuses to to pronounce the ny and ng sounds requisite of the Acholi language.
Olive makes me read my speeches out loud, correcting my intonations and rhythms. Soon a friend joins us and then her cousin. I stumble over my words even more with an audience. It’s a humid day and my armpits sweat even more under the pressure of the small crowd gathered in Olive’s living room. I hate public speaking and public speaking in a foreign language is bringing my animosity to a whole new level.
As our time comes to a close, I try to pay Olive. She refuses. I tell her that I want her to have the opportunity to go back to school. She tells me she can’t take money from the mother of her cousin brother. I tell her to think of an acceptable amount for me to pay her so that when I returns for lessons on Monday, I can pay for both sessions.
Two hours, one biscuit and one cup of tea later, I’ve got three speeches in my notebook along with a pocketful of promises to Olive to keep practicing. I doubt I’ll be able to say my speeches perfectly, but I hope that where my tongue fails, my heart will take over.