Dɛdɛ avɔkanfún nɔ nyí avɔ. (Little by little, cotton tufts become fabric.) -Fon proverb.
A few months ago, I had my first Fon language class. At the end of class, my head often hurts. Fon is not like any other language I know, so I started from zero. Although it is challenging, I really like my Fon class, and my favorite part of the class is my teacher.
Mrs. Falola Appoline teaches English at a public school in Allada, the town in which La Casa Grande is located. She also teaches English at Les Leaders, La Casa Grande's school where I teach. Mrs. Appoline is passionate about teaching, languages, and her walk with Jesus. She is married and has two children, Christla and Christborn.
I met Mrs. Appoline last July during a summer English class I taught. Even though she was too advanced for the course, she wanted an opportunity to practice. Later, when she started teaching at Les Leaders, we met at a teachers' meeting. During our conversation, she agreed to teach me Fon. Currently, our lives intersect in other ways, too. In addition to being teaching colleagues, we practice English together. I also teach English to her 8-year-old daughter at school. And, we have become friends.
She is a guide and interpreter in my process of discovering Beninese culture more thoroughly through her language. She has patiently invited me to get closer to her perspectives on life and her faith. Meeting Mrs. Appoline has been one of those blessed, unlikely encounters that characterize life with God. I feel grateful to have someone with whom to exchange experiences in different levels of life.
Many days when I have arrived at my Fon lesson sad or tired, Mrs. Appoline has encouraged me through her grace and empathy as a woman/teacher/Christian/human being.
I love being a student rather than the teacher for a couple hours. The experience allows me to put myself in the shoes of my students. It also frees me from not having to know in advance what will happen in class.
I love to improve in my ability to speak Fon and to peek into a worldview that describes a finger, alɔvi, as "the child of the hand" (hand — alɔ, child — ví). I love people's surprised faces when I speak to them in their language, even when after 20 seconds I no longer understand the rest of what they are saying. And I really love that market vendors give us better prices when we barter in the Fon language!
In each class, I enjoy discovering different aspects of Beninese culture. I also love when my teacher helps me better understand confusing things that happen at work, at church, and in my daily life.
I am inspired by my committed teacher who loves her students, including me! Her example challenges me to be more like her. I am grateful that God sent her to help me navigate life in Benin. I feel so very happy and thankful that despite coming from such different contexts, we have become true friends.
Diana Cruz wrote these reflections in response to reading Chico Fajardo-Heflin's Waiting to be welcomed: Learning to be a guest, not a giver.