Ekskuus?*

*For my non-South African readers, ‘Ekskuus’ means ‘Pardon’.

When Cameron was born a friend recommended a private clinic run by the calm and competent Sister Maryna. I went to her two weeks ago for some breastfeeding help and was impressed by the extent of the support she offers moms. One of these channels is post-natal classes in which one can learn about basic childcare while meeting other mommies. I signed up straight away.

Today I turned up for my first class full of effervescent enthusiasm. I was one of the last to arrive. The other moms were chatting away, mostly in Afrikaans but that’s par for the course in Pretoria. (I should mention at this juncture that I absolutely cannot speak Afrikaans and my well rehearsed ‘nod and smile’ act will leave Afrikaans speakers with the impression that I understand a lot more than I in fact do.) I took a seat and shortly afterwards class began.

Sister Maryna kicked off with asking us all to introduce ourselves. The list of salient facts to mention was given in Afrikaans which surprised me but I privately congratulated myself on understanding what was required. I was one of the last in line and every person before me introduced herself in Afrikaans. I kicked off my speech with, ‘I’m sorry, I really can’t speak Afrikaans, but I’m Lucy and this is Cameron …’ Apparently this posed no problem.

Sister Maryna then started with the lecture … in Afrikaans. At which point I was forced to accept that this was in fact an Afrikaans class. You might think that I was a bit slow in this realisation but in all my previous experience in Pretoria the ‘corridor chat’ might be in Afrikaans but the ‘boardroom discussion’ is always in English. I found it incredibly strange that Maryna hadn’t warned me considering I’d only ever spoken English to her. But whatever. All in all I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the amount I understood. Fortunately she screened a video for some of the session and that was in English so I was given a slight reprieve.

Usually I am so embarrassed by my poor Afrikaans skills that I tend to clam up when it’s spoken but today I contributed to the conversation when I could (I just added my comments in English which no one seemed to mind). However, today the really practical advice was given in English and only the informational aspect in Afrikaans. It’s okay to misunderstand the odd bit of trivia. It is not okay to misunderstand the steps for, say, breaking a baby’s fever. And so while I toyed with the idea of continuing the course as a language exercise, if they don’t use videos every week I think I’ll have to abandon it and hit my baby books instead!

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