Saturday, June 17, 2006

I dont speak your language

I am increasingly becoming nervous of greeting people or being greeted by people in South Africa. The reason being that I do not know any of their indigenous languages. But this is difficult for someone who has to use public transport everyday and it can easily be interpreted as rudeness.

The thing is I have been told so often that I don’t look like a Zimbabwean and I find myself wondering “what exactly do Zimbabweans look like?” I have asked this question several times to my quizzers and have been told that Zimbabweans are very dark in complexion but aren’t they dark South Africans too? I have seen and heard several dark skinned South Africans but I’ve never been bothered about it.

A typical conversation may begin with what I can identify as a greeting “kunjani mama? Or lekayi” for which I am now familiar with the responses. Agony comes when the other person decides to become talkative and releases a string of unintelligible words (to me of course) which start to make sense after I have explained that “oh I don’t understand your language.”

There are those who take offense at my being unable to speak their language. Mostly these are combi drivers or bus drivers who see it as an opportunity to grill me about why I am in South Africa if I can’t speak his language. I find this an irritant.

First of all, what business do people have of knowing what I am doing in this country? If one gets asked this question once in a while its fine but everyday! Secondly, would it make a difference if people knew why I am in South Africa?

I really feel like l am reaching the end of my tether. How long have you been here and why are you not learning the language? I agree it’s very important to learn different languages for specific reasons but at the moment ingenious languages are not my priority.

I am so busy on other things and besides there are 11 languages in South Africa. Where does one start for example? I have met South Africans who can not speak Zulu facing the same problem. For now it will be “oh I don’t speak your language.”


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