I recently made an unexpected visit to a small town/city, just outside Cape Town. It was a familiar place. My family and I took this trip at least once a year. Anybody who knows me, knows that I absolutely love small, isolated places. Especially away from the noise of the City. The peace and beauty of this place(Piketberg) was so refreshing, besides the fact that nobody really ‘knew’ I was there, but i’ll get to that in a moment. Just know that, this place was cool, I would totally live there, but I am unemployed and English. In other words:
Pick a struggle.
I was in the middle of a predominantly Afrikaans town.Of course,I knew this by the way they listened closely to my English and after tolerating it for a while, I’d get asked:
“Kan jy nie Afrikaans praat nie?”
Even going to get a coke was so awkward, because the minute I opened my mouth the entire Spaza shop knew I wasn’t from there. For a moment, I took no offense because firstly, I was in their territory and secondly, I can read and comprehend the language, but I struggle to express myself in it. Most times, I sound hilarious, my friends would laugh at my attempts and say:”Rather speak English man.” So my answer to this question, would be no! I can’t, I want to, but I can’t. The bits and pieces I can articulate are flawed. I’d rather speak it properly or not at all.
Let me not over explain…
Here I was, sharing friends with my cousin. Bombarded with questions like:
“Jy bly dan in die Kaap, en jy se vi my, jy ken niks Afrikaans nie?”
The entire weekend I spent my time explaining to people how I understand but cannot speak fluently with them. Some, tried with me and we actually had a decent bilingual conversation. Others, listened to my pitch on my language deficiency and then moved along, when understanding me became to much admin. My cousin made the switch so easily, she was fluent in both. I admired her and definitely felt that I was missing out. The language barrier, restricted my ability to build new relationships with people. This was a defining moment, a deep revelation of a truth I will share with you now, Well at least, what became truth to me.
As a writer, language is a tool to me. Realizing that I sucked at expressing myself in Afrikaans sucked!! BIG TIME! does a writer not sharpen their tools. Here, I was blunt. Bluntly ignorant.
I once read an article , in which it said “Language is key in this countries transformation process”. In my ignorance I doubted this. Language? I just failed to understand this, until now. Although my encounter was microscopic, It taught me something remarkable.
In school, I thrived in Afrikaans because I regularly practiced it. Partly because I had an amazing Afrikaans teacher, but also because I appreciated the language. Here, I felt isolated and misunderstood, mostly because I had stopped practicing, stopped learning, stopped growing in this area. It was a barrier, a real one. One that would only be overcome by learning how to , instead of saying “I want to but I cant”. I chose to say that my Afrikaans is broken, because I believe that It can be fixed but “can’t” was just too defining, too infinite, too debilitating.
It’s a vice versa thing man…Listen, we have to get to a point where our interest in each other goes beyond emotions and physical perceptions, but deeper. If we going to transcend, even geographical barriers, let us learn about culture and each others language. Let us delve it to those things. Not only learn to understand , but to appreciate as well.
Or you could sit in a company like me, on your phone, chatting to your English friends, because everyone else is tired of you being lost in translation.
I’m excited to learn once again, whether in theory or in practice. But I will not boast in my multidiverse country and refuse change, or something new. A bit dramatic , i’d say, but my observation has spurred me on to do better. With this being let out, I want to spark a language revolution in my life, I hope that this blog post would inspire you to do the same.
Expression without borders….