Wednesday 3 September 2008

Childhood: Driving the languages of sacrifice

Unculu drives

Continuing those stories of childhood down memory lane where I left off weeks ago. My father had moved to Jos to take up a new appointment with the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria.

My uncle who we have for long lovingly referred to as Unculu had joined us in Kaduna and I remember the many evenings when my mother took him out to teach him how to drive - suffice it to say he did not pick up that skill for another 8 or so years.

By which time, he bought a car and my father was so scared that he was going to brag his way with a drive to his office hardly 3 kilometres away - though we could see the office from our house - followed him so closely, it was almost illegal. Well, Unculu had really learnt to drive in some secret place and was doing quite nicely, Thank you.

Gave up much for us

When we were in Kaduna, my parents had both worked at the Kaduna Polytechnic, I believe my mother was also a lecturer there before we moved to Jos, because when we returned to Kaduna a few years later, at least 2 of her old students visited us as my mother proudly announced that her erstwhile students are now doing very well with their careers.

One has to be very appreciative of our parents and the sacrifices they made to keep the family unit together as much as possible.

Having left a lecturer-ship in Kaduna, my mother ended up as a secondary school teacher, not to far from where I went to primary school and she majored in teaching Commerce.

It is commendable in some ways how women in matrimony have given up promising careers and prospects for their husbands and family - what saddens me is when you get to talk to them and you sometimes hear regret about what they would have wanted to do but never got to do.

The lesson we could learn from this is to be able to have some hindsight that is not too far away from where there is still time to go after your dream.

Speaking in tongues

The many years she had spent in the North before meeting my father came in so useful, she was just as indigenous as the natives that she was referred to as Hajiya - a Hausa woman who had been on Hajj - well; my mother is quite a devout Christian and over time has become a true Nigerian polyglot.

She speaks her native Yoruba, which is spoken in the South-West, then having lived in the North for 23 years in total, is tongue-perfect in Hausa and fully conversant with their customs, but I was quite pleasantly surprised that she had mastered an Igbo dialect spoken in Eastern Nigeria without having ever been there.

I am sorry to say, I do not have the mastery of learning languages as my mother, I am quite good with Yoruba and really improving my Hausa in a way, even though I am not in Nigeria - I have no grasp of Igbo at all.

When it comes to languages, I suppose I am more like my father, he took radio and instructor-taught classes of Hausa and never really made much progress with it. His early attempts at Pidgin English were funny to say the least - he always has had an impeccable command of English - when I was younger, I could remember the number of times I needed to check out a word in the dictionary then the whole thing sinks in.

Mother-tongue of something else

I suppose one interesting thing about languages is that my mother-tongue is not my mother's mother-tongue, mine is English, it being the first language I could speak and still is the language my parents use the most in communicating with me - Yoruba rarely creeps into our conversation.

As I reached 10 my parents tried to engage me more in learning Yoruba, my best score in secondary school where the language was compulsory for the first 3 years was 38%, this was after years of being forced to read the Psalms into water in Yoruba rather than the easier English.

Much as I try, my command of Dutch is still rudimentary, it is still quite Double-Dutch and each time I string together a sentence to the hearing of the Dutch, I might as well be a clown because it brings laughs of incredulity rather than understanding - what could I be getting wrong?

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