Today is technically the first day of orientation, and I had an in depth conversation about feminism EN FRANCAIS. I’m pretty ecstatic about it. My French is terrible, the three A’s I’ve gotten in all my French classes lied because my listening comprehension and oral skills are shit. Throughout the last three days, I’ve already gotten used to the blank panicked feeling as people rattle on in French and I understand about 15%. But I think a big part of the problem is the blank panicked feeling. Tonight over dinner all seven of us SIT kids made a pact that we are going to only speak in French during meal-times, we can use English while hanging out but if we want to improve we need to practice together. I was like “oh dear” but agreed, and as we sat and laughed and each stumbled through French occasionally, I started to relax a little and have fun instead of viewing each French sentence as a test. At one point, Jeff (who is the only guy in the program) said something jokingly that had a tinge of sexism, and I laughed and said “Careful, I’m a feminist” (but in French as per the new dinner table rules).
Suddenly that turned into an in depth discussion of “La Feminism” which mostly involved Serge (our program assistant, who incidentally studied minority and women’s studies at university), and Brittany and Jeff, who both have adequate (ie really good) French for the subject. I was really frustrated, because it was such a fascinating topic and I wanted desperately to hear Serge’s voluble Cameroonian perspective, and felt I was missing it all. But when they recapped in English for me, I found I’d already gathered many of the key points: that in Cameroon the role of mother is highly valued, that he thinks feminism means that for American women there are more roles that are considered valuable (ie are open to women), that there are some types of feminism that are radical: "la femme la femme la femme!” and that feminism in the U.S., France and Cameroon are very different because culture influences what feminism is, and what types of feminist there are. I responded in broken French, and with some help, that I agreed, but that there are different types of feminist in the U.S. as well, and that “A mon avis, la feminism ne signifie pas la femme est mieux l’homme, mais la feminism est égalité” (or something like that. My written French is worse than my spoken, and that’s saying a lot). “D’accord.”
And then I couldn’t stop smiling from then until now because I was having a philosophical discussion (one of my favorite things) about feminism (one of my favorite things) with new friends in Africa (clearly one of my favorite things) all EN FRANCAIS.
Maybe I am actually smarter than I seem, and stronger than I think.