As I began learning, people took different methods to teach me Venda. One of those approaches that some took was to ask me “what do you want to know? Tell me in English and I will tell you it in Venda.” Helpful, but I usually could not think of anything. What would help me the most? What phrases would be useful in my daily life? How many phrases are short enough for me to actually learn and remember them?
Ndi ngani thusa?
This phrase has been the most helpful to me. I realized I wanted to learn it a few days in when I wanted to help out around the house but did not know how. Ndi ngani thusa means “can I help?” This phrase has opened things up. I follow people around, watch what they do, and then say “Ndi ngani thusa?” They look at me and smile, and usually give me a try (which means I do it ten times slower than they would-but I’m learning J). Because of this phrase I have cut green beans, stirred pop (the staple grain food that is eaten with everything), picked leaves off stalks, cooked meat, swept, put away groceries, done dishes, and carried in many different things.
This simple phrase has given me language to offer help and by doing so it has also given me a hands-on way to experience some of the culture that is in Venda.
Now, just because I ask to help does not mean I always get to. There are limits because we don’t know each other all that well yet and they care for my safety. At home we used all the split firewood we had, so the woman I stay with was cutting more. Splitting wood with an axe looks like a very dangerous task-especially if you misjudge and follow through into yourself (which is what my mind kept envisioning happening to the woman I care for because I was scared and concerned the axe would miss the wood and skip back). The wood was tough and she had to use a lot of strength, and yet the wood was still not splitting at the speed I thought it would be. So I ran inside to get my boots on and came back out and asked “Ndi ngani thusa?” She kindly looked and me and sternly said “no.” As much as I did not trust that she could do it alone and would stay safe, I had to. And she did not trust me that I would be safe, regardless of the fact that I put on boots. J So with asking to help I have learned that there are many more layers to the answers of this question.