Sunday, December 30, 2012

Language

Let's chat. 

I have never been particularly good at language.  Even after living in Italy for six months, my proudest moments were the first five minutes of a conversation before any given person realized I wasn't Italian.  After about five minutes--when we exhausted the simple pleasantries--there was always that moment where it would dawn on them "hey, this guy isn't from around here".  I was proud of those first five minutes.  I'm not even anywhere near that; I've only been here for three months.  Of course, such a moment isn't even possible in Cameroon with me sticking out like a sore thumb, but you get the picture.  Oh right, I'm also learning two languages at once.

And here is a kicker: I am learning Fulfulbe THROUGH French.  It isn't as if I have an English speaking teacher.  No, when something is too complex to explain in Fulfulbe (at this point: everything), it is explained in French.  One of the strangest moments of my life was when I realized this.  In my frustration, it dawned on me that I couldn't understand the French that was supposed to explain the Fulfulbe.  Then the world felt like it was crumbling around me as I lost grip on reality and plummeted into hysterical laughter at the shear ridiculousness of my life.

So that's fun.

One more thing I didn't mention: everyone who speaks French here learned it as a second language.  Just like me.  That means two people are trying to communicate in languages that they learned later in life.  These are also the people I am learning French from.  To say my French needs polishing is a gross understatement.

It is hard to imagine.  I have trouble coming to terms with it and I live it every day.  There are people I just simply can't talk to that I see every day.  A whole lot of them.  Add a pinch of cultural misunderstanding and you could drive a man insane.

Luckily I have myself to talk to.