Continental Drift

December 1, 2010

I speak English fairly well

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 9:56 am

Adama, the leather worker who lives across the courtyard from me, got home from work at the artinsanal market late tonight.  He pulled a book out of his bag to show me.  “Look,” he said, “I’m going to study English.” I looked at the book.  The fact that the title translates to, “I get by okay with English,” didn’t seem sufficiently ambitious, but I just said, “Oh, great.”

The kids passed the book around.  13 year old Beiny confirmed that this is the book by which to study English.  Mama stared at it in the way she generally approaches the written word, as if she is trying to look through the paper and expecting something to speak from inside the object and tell her what it says.  But this time, as usual, I was again reminded that she is perfectly literate, as she pointed out, “It says here, ‘En Anglais, tous les verbs se conjugant dans la meme maniere’ (In English, all verbs are conjugated the same way). Is that true?” “Well,” I admitted, “It is a little bit true, I guess.”

Upon further discussion, it was determined that the book only costs keme fila (1000 CFA/$1).  Beiny encouraged Mama to purchase the book so he could study English so that I would let him come to America with me.  Mama agreed.  “I’m going to buy this book.  And Beiny will study English.  I can’t study English, because my brain is old and spoiled and I don’t see well at night.  Then Beiny will go to America where he will make lots of money and then come back and explode the rocks.  He tells me all the time that if I would just let him leave school, he would go to America and this is what he would do.”  “He will do what?” “Break my rocks!” she repeated, this time adding in a gesture towards the rock wall behind the house.  Seeing as I was still confused, she deigned to explain, “He will break down all those rocks and build me a one story building, and put me in it! And then he will build a whole mosque, and that will be the mosque where I will go and pray.  He tells me all the time that he will do this, what a funny kid right?”  There was nothing to do besides agree, and then yell at Beiny that he better not leave school.  This is for his own good, as well as for the good of the unsuspecting people who live directly behind our house, perched on the top of the same rock face that Beiny wants to explode.


Ma and friends hanging my laundry above the infamous exploding rocks, in front of the house that rests on them

Everyone was still passing the book around, and in looking at the cover I remembered that I’ve seen this book before. At the regular market, the only books you find are the ones sold at the stationary stalls. The only books the stationary stalls  bother to stock are the ones that all students are required to have for certain grades, so you only see the same books over and over again. And this one had definitely jumped out as something memorable.

I get by in English okay

I felt bad that I was privately sitting there laughing to myself about how horrendous it was that the one English book that anyone has access to here has a caricature of an English colonist and his farflung subjects on the cover, and worried that they would think I was amused by their attempts to learn English.  I tried to turn over a new leaf, let them in on the joke instead of just storing it up to write about it later.

So I said, “I don’t think it is very good that they have this picture of an old English man on the cover, and then they make silly pictures of all the different people that England colonized.” “Yes,” said Mama, pointing to the white man in the suit, “This one is an American, I think.”   “No,” I said, pushing us back towards the point I was trying to make, “I think he is English.” “Yes,” said Mama, “I think he is an old English man, that is why he has a hat.” “Look,” I tried again, “Is it right that they make the Malian look that way?” pointing to the black figure.  “Do Malians really look like that?” “No, that’s true, that’s not really what a Malian looks like.  But that one,” pointing to the figure on the right, “that one is a Nigerian.” Ah bon. “Oh really?” “If that one is Nigerian, where is that one from?” I asked, pointing to the figure on the left wearing the sombrero.  With no pause, she replied, “That’s an Ivoirian.” “Wait, so if that’s an Ivoirien, who is the one in the middle?” I asked.  “Oh that one, well that one is a Senegalese.” “And the last one, bent over on the right side?” “Oh  her as well? Well she’s also Senegalse.”  With each identification Beiny was laughing harder, as was I, as was Ma, but Mama was only smiling knowingly and I have no idea what joke any of us thought  was funny.  I decided there was now no choice, I had to document the book jacket.  I told them I needed to take a picture of the cover.

As I looked for my camera in my room, Mama called out to Adama.  “Adama! Maimouna says that there is a picture on the cover of your book with the English man and all the people he colonized. She asked me who every one was, one by one, and then she said she wants to take a picture.  Maimouna kungolo mein! (Maimouna’s head is bad!).”

After I was done taking pictures of the cover, I was handed the book again.  I started flipping through it to see what Adama was supposed to learn. I discovered that the book had pictures inside too!

Better than that, the captions on the pictures tell Malians to speak English with the exact terrible accent with which all Malian English speakers speak.

There is even a line in the book that says “TH: like S.”

Chi iz heun gre

But then, as if these diagrams weren’t helpful enough, I discovered this one:

priz-neu of ou-or

Now I can go to sleep in peace, knowing that I can ask Malians across the country, and probably citizens across Francophone Africa, how to get to the ‘hed kou-oteur’ if ever I am lost and can’t find my ‘bar rak’ and am worried that a ‘plenn’ will come by and shoot a ‘gueunn’ at me and leave me ‘-houn-ded-‘ and in need of a ‘stret-cher ber-eur.’ I can only hope that this will save me from becoming a’priz-neu of ou-or’.


1 Comment »

  1. What a great post unaleona!!

    Comment by Kimmy — December 6, 2010 @ 2:42 am | Reply

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