Diaspora 254 experience:My language, my pride.
After being away from home for three years, the reception was awesome. Everyone had something to say, conflicting comments. Bottom-line was; I had changed. However, this one question kept coming from everyone, “How comes you still remember Swahili? You remember Luhya? Did you just answer back in Teso? Never forgotten Luo?” They were taken by surprise. I was left laughing. Find out why.
A story was told of my neighbor’s daughter, who went to the Kenyan coast for two weeks and could hardly speak her mother tongue, not to mention that this was a language she had spoken all her life, but for two weeks. That the accent she got from the coast was too powerful to erase all the vocabulary she had known for 20 years. I nodded as I thought…time is powerful you know, but maybe this one could be a medical condition. I don’t know how it happens.
Bobby on the other hand, went to visit her aunt in the United States for a month. On coming back, all the Swahili he had learnt in school was nowhere in his memory. I remembered him as the best Swahili student in my class. All was gone. He spoke from the nose, no one could hardly understand the language he spoke. He kept begging pardon, and his listeners did the same. I laughed as his imitators made it look and sound funny.
My story interested them too. I live in Ukraine. Here we mainly speak Ukrainian and Russian languages. After a few months, some English speakers from my continent get an American accent. It is so funny, hard to understand too. Only those it has happened to can explain the science behind it.
There are times I have been in a situation where I could explain something better in Ukrainian language, than in English. I have missed some Swahili vocabulary. However, to completely forget a language one has spoken for ages, I think is a choice. Some view forgetting their native language/mother tongue as being civilized, so they pretend not to understand.
“You don’t sound like you live abroad.” An acquaintance commented. I was interested in knowing how those who lived abroad sounded like. “You don’t have an accent.” I smiled. I noted that to sound like a diasporan, I needed an accent. So having an accent is an identity for some, if not many.
A language like Swahili, or even mother tongue is something we should embrace and value. Something of our own origin, a language that makes us unique. Get others interested in our language than trying to imitate them. Let’s keep it Kenyan in the diaspora, that is keeping it real.
Daima mimi kenya…
By Liz Ekakoro:Diaspora Messenger contributor,