I’m sure excited about going to Africa to visit Lydia and Jo’s foster kids.  I e-mailed her last week with some questions, such as the ages of the children and whether coffee will be available in Senegal.  If the answer to that last one was no, I’d have to start weaning myself off the stuff.

Almost as an afterthought, I asked if the kids speak English.  Here was Lydia’s response:

“In Senegal, French is the most spoken language, though a few people speak English due to the nearness of Gambia.”


A few days ago, I’d seen a video of one of the kids.  He was speaking French.  And soon I will too.  I have the remnants of high school French but the rust is huge.

Jody and I went to Quebec City in 2008 to enjoy the music, the food and the ancient buildings.  The vacation, however, came to be about local people and my efforts to communicate in their language.  I had a marvelous time, and virtually every Quebeçois was kind to us, throwing in some good natured laughter as I decimated the grammar and vocabulary.  Senegal can be the same!

Yesterday, in French class, I told Madame and the kids about my dilemma: I have three weeks and a few days to get good at French.  Any ideas?

As the students got back to work, a girl approached me.  “Have you heard of Duolingo, Mr. Kerr?” > “Nope” > “It’ll teach you French.” > “All right, I’ll give it a try.”

I downloaded the app on my phone, did some registering things, and was faced with a choice: either I don’t know any French or I know some.  Okay, “some”.  The program would do a pretest with me, to see where they should start my studies.  As I pondered question number one, a few kids gathered around me, watching for my success or lack thereof.  Actually they were cheering me on.

“Translate ‘a man and a boy’ into French.”  I got to work, with lots of coaching coming from the left and right.  “Un homme et un garçon”  >  “You are correct” flashed on the screen.  Muted cheering from the peanut gallery (and from me).  We were off … question after question appeared and I (we) did pretty well.

The whole darn thing was fun, especially the kid participation part.

Okay.  That’s enough for today.  Now back to my French homework.  I sense bilingualism hanging out just beyond the horizon.

Not Too Bad

I study words.  I study the way people speak.  It’s a strange hobby but I like it.  In the spirit of glasses being half full or half empty, I look for how I want to express myself face-to-face or on the computer screen.  Life has its share of suffering for all of us but I wonder if our words can uplift the world.  Of course they can.  We simply have to choose.  Even in the heat of the moment we can enhance or diminish.

Today I’m reflecting on phrases that are termed double negatives.  Not just one deficit thought aimed at our fellow man, but two.  Let’s take “No problem”.  That phrase is meant to be a positive but there’s something subtly sinister hiding under the surface, I think.  How about “Good” as an alternative?  That feels better.

Here are some other word groupings that can invade our psyches:

1. Not insignificant
2. I do not disagree.
3. I can’t hardly believe …
4. Less unhealthy cigarettes
5. There is hardly no worse challenge.
6. I am not, no way, ever going to help her.
7. Congress decided not to refuse to delay the vote …
8. I’m not saying he isn’t honest.
9. I choose to not allow negativity to seep away at my soul.

Am I just talking the rules of grammar here?  No.  I choose to put positive energy into the world and therefore I’m vigilant about the words I use.  May I never be hypnotized by convention.

Words Hypnotize

I’m all excited about going to the CP Women’s Open on Friday.  It’s a golf tournament hosting most of the best women players in the world.  In contemplating the event this morning, I thought about the word “open” being used here as a noun.  Here’s what some unknown wise human had to say on the subject:

Virtually all the languages of the West are noun-oriented, which means that we have effectively fixed the experiential world into static solid boxes.

When I utter the words that society expects of me, am I falling into a trap which seems benign but perhaps is not?  I’d say yes.

I love adjectives.  When I’m feeling in touch with Spirit, I often describe myself as an open window, with the breeze wafting through.  Open – available to life, welcoming it, not resisting it.  I also love verbs.  How marvelous to open a present or to see a flower gradually open.  But turning such experiences into nouns, making them “things”?  No.  It doesn’t feel right.

A thing has a boundary, the point where thing becomes not-thing.  My property ceases to be that at the road out front.  Things stay put.  They don’t flow as a verb does.  They don’t enrich, as an adjective does.  And I want my life to flow and be coloured with the rainbow of the moment.  We folks need the movement and the zest.  Our nouns do seem to keep us in separate boxes, keep us analyzing and separating.  I want to wear a coat of many colours, not a business suit.

I wonder if I’m being ridiculous here.  Gosh, Bruce, it’s just a golf tournament!  Talk about navel gazing.  Or maybe not.  Perhaps we should tack an “-ing” on the back end of a whole bunch of nouns and see what we get.  “I feel love” compared to “There’s loving happening”.  Not something that A sends to B but something that’s there, between us, around us, potentially around everyone.  Smiling … Caring … Touching.

Maybe life can be like the ocean – ever changing, calm to rough and back to calm again, vibrantly alive.  Just maybe we can awaken from the stupor imbedded in our language.