Communicating is something I’ve always taken for granted. And I only noticed at the ripe age of twenty-six The biggest choice has always been what to say, only then do I formulate how to say it. If you know me, you know that while I usually say the wrong thing, I at least put a lot of thought into how I want to say it. Grammar, vocabulary, brevity, lengthiness, subtext: these are all elements I consider when speaking (and writing, as it were). But suddenly in Cameroon I live in a second language (third really if we’re considering Cameroonian French decidedly different than French, as we should) and I have to think for longer about how to say something than it should take just to say it.
I learned French because when I was 12 it sounded beautiful and I had an aunt who could speak it who lived in France and I wanted to be mysterious and wild like I imagined her to be. But the French here isn’t beautiful, mysterious or wild – it is harsh and abrasive and sharp. It is a bastard, it was left here and abandoned and it morphed into something ugly.
“Comment allez-vous?” or “How do you go?” has become “C’est comment?” or “It is how?” the same thing has happened in English, this being a bilingual nation. “How are you?” is simply “How?” to which one may respond, “No, it de go fine.” Languages here are orphans, and not the cute Oliver-type orphan who teaches valuable life lessons and grows to be something beneficial and lovely. They’re the Charles Manson-type orphans who were never nourished or loved so they morphed into something with no feeling behind it. (This doesn’t necessarily convey my adoration of Charles Manson appropriately, but it’s an allusion) Language in Cameroon has feeling, but it remains in the village languages which when spoken to a mama in the market, will cause her to light up and give you edible gifts.
But nice sayings have sprung forth from these linguistic failings. “On est ensemble” and “We are together” can be heard regularly to embrace loved ones, diffuse tense situations and welcome a new friend. “Merci” is a suitable response to “Bonjour” as though we are thankful just for being acknowledged (which we often are). And my personal favorite, if I don’t go into work for longer than usual my colleagues emphatically and with great drama accuse me of abandonment. “Tu m’as abandonne!” they cry while embracing me or slapping my hand with a snap. I never feel so loved as when I am greeted with accusations of abandonment.