25 June 2016

Transubstantiation: The Art of Speaking Before Thinking

While Maiguida is the "Owner of Hausa" (meaning, he can speak in complete correct sentences and understands what Nigerien people are saying to him), I have been titled the "Owner of Talking" -- I'll leave that definition to your own imagination.

Apparently, when it comes to language learning, I have no qualms about jumping in head-first, letting my tongue lead the charge.  Some say it's a good thing . . . not being afraid to make mistakes, trying to communicate despite a lack of perfection, learning by doing in a trail-and-error kind of way.

But surely there is some kind of folly in digging oneself into such a language ditch that she is halfway to China before she realizes no one in the room has any idea of what she is talking about . . . herself included.

10 June 2016

The Chinese Dialect of Hausa

When I was in high school, in order to graduate, we had to take either two years each of two foreign languages or three years of one.  At that time, only Latin, French and Spanish were offered (American Sign Language was considered an elective) . . . and my parents gave us the choice of studying Latin or Latin--believing it would be helpful for us with the SAT exam and futures in areas such as law or medicine.

If only I had understood then what I know now: I'm a tactile learner and language as a concept is lost on me.

06 June 2016

Hausa + Math = Torture

I love playing with my camera and capturing unique moments in time.  Somedays I even get a few photos that are worth looking at.  I enjoy telling stories, both orally and in written form.  Most of the time they are long and drawn out and overly detailed, but somedays I'm able to edit one down enough to get a few clicks of approval on Facebook.  I love to cook and try out new recipes.  And on a good day, the final product is palatable enough for Maiguida to ask for seconds. 

But you know what I don't like?  Numbers.  I hate them.  And I'm no good at using them.  If I have mittens on, forget it.  And please never, ever ask me to subtract or divide . . . cause we'll just be wasting each other's time.

The problem is, society has determined that numbers are important.  Like we can't live life without them or something.  And not just Western society!  Nope, Niger has numbers too!! 

And this week, I had to do math in Hausa and it was the most pain I've been in for a very long time.

05 June 2016

I Found Donuts in the Market

I can't make this stuff up!
I've been on a mission.

A fabric finding mission.

Last year I was in Côte d'Ivoire for the biennial congress of the PanAfrican BurnSociety.  Something I didn't know until moving to Niger is that Abidjan (Ivory Coast's capital city) is considered to be the Milan of West Africa.  We're talking haute couture here people!  At least in terms of wax prints.

Being that we were in the fashion capital of our little corner of the world, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to scope out the latest fabrics.  As I settled on a beautiful cobalt with a barely-there white dotted pattern, I noticed a print that was too fabulous for words: babies in-utero juxtaposed with waiting-to-nurse breasts.

04 June 2016

The Owner of the Room

So much of language is culture.  We often assume that language is simply a collection of words structured in a certain way and organized by these funny symbols we call emojis . . . I mean, punctuation.

Children learn the language of their parents (or languages, in some cases) by hearing and slowly mimicking.  Early mispronunciation or grammatical errors are often considered adorable, but are corrected as the child matures and begins school.  Through this style of learning, the cultural component of language is absorbed and naturally understood.

But when one studies a new language as an adult, there are heaps of nuances that are not so easily perceived.  And we find ourselves beginning to finally scratch the surface of what it really means to speak Hausa.

03 June 2016

And We're Back

A week ago our plane touched down in Niamey, the capital city of Niger.  It was around 2am local time.  As we grabbed our carry-ons and made our way out of the air conditioned cabin, we descended the movable staircase and crowded into transport bus that would take us for a 20-second drive from the plane to the arrivals terminal.

As we stood in the-kind-of-a-line, sweating, at passport control, I took in a deep breath of hot, stale air.

Ah.  Niger.