I love to communicate; I love the interaction with people. I love words and language, I love expression, I love the way thoughts are modulated into expressions that other people react to. I also love listening, but I don't love it exclusively – I want to talk and listen!
Maybe I was stupid, but it was only after I crossed the border into Burkina Faso that it really sank in that they actually spoke French there. Well, not just French, but also hundreds of other African languages that I didn't speak. Can you say, "this is a new experience?"
I was marooned in the Africa I had come to celebrate, my only means of communicating were a garbled French that sounded like I was rolling marbles in my mouth, a frenzied gesturing of the hands that left my biceps numb from the effort after three minutes. How did Tarzan do it?
Had I bitten off more than I could chew?
Anyway, there really was no going back. I was here to celebrate Africa, and I was not going to let a little matter of language stop me. There is beauty in listening to sounds you don't understand. You notice that your survival or merely your ability to cope comes to rest on your ability to grasp intonation, to observe nuances in body language. You start to learn to tell the difference between the woman who is offering to take you under her wing and the man who is eyeing the money in your hand with way too much avidity.
I decided to make the experience fun. I mean, how often do you get a chance to make mistakes all over the place and be able to blame the language? There's a lot to be said for this.
But on a more serious note, this brings to mind a lot of what is truly great and frustrating about Africa: the linguistic and cultural diversity. Just thinking about this alone may keep foolhardy home, but we fools know that it is when we surrender to the impulse to see for ourselves that the magic unfolds. And so it has.
By the way, how do you like my French? Je ne pas Compre Francais
My apologies to my French teachers in primary school, it really wasn't your fault!