Monthly Archives: June 2016

What To Do With Your Accent

So I get asked why my people and I say “docta” (doctor) when the word is “doctor” hence the need to say it as doct-OR with an emphasis on the ‘OR’ since the two letter word is pronounced ‘OR’ and not ‘er’ and I go crazy trying to break the heads of these Nigerians the same way I get irritated when they question me about why I say ‘pasta’ and ‘pastor’ the same way.

So in West Africa there’s that constant disagreement between Anglophone countries, mostly Ghana and Nigeria over who better speaks a language we do not co-own but inherited as part of a colonial gift package. This isn’t a history lesson though, so I’ll go on and share the fact that I was also quite pleasantly surprised to hear my professor say that French people do not regard the French she speaks as the original version since she is Belgian, and the fact that growing up she sensed a lack of national pride with regards to French spoken in Belgium since France mocked them and regarded their French as not standard. I also remember sitting in a Francophone culture class and watching a snippet of a show with a Canadian couple whose French pronunciations our teacher asked us to analyze. For what I thought.  At the time it was to help us understand that different cultures possess the French language and have an entirely different approach to it; in terms of pronunciation, lexicons and expressions, etc. Beneath this exposure though,  I felt a hint of mockery but that wasn’t apparent enough so there was no need to explore it. Back to my professor, I would learn that her parents moved around quite a lot and so she had the opportunity of studying in the US, France and Northern Africa all leading to a career that exposed her to the French Caribbean and its own intricate linguistic culture. She would say words a certain way and her mother would be quick to say no do not pronounce it the Belgian way; say it the Parisian way; better still let’s enroll you in a school that would perfect your diction and pronunciation, and help you speak the standard French and so they did.

Moving back to Francophone Africa, it still surprises me how Ivorians, Senegalese or Congolese feel their spoken French is the best. Similar to the raging war between Ghana – Nigerian English. Interestingly enough, Ivorians have this overwhelming sense of superiority (I’ve known too many of them not to be able to safely generalize) and actually make fun of Beninese and Togolese accents. Learning French however, I hung around quite a number of Francophone Africans, mostly West African. I got used to some expressions that did not necessarily apply to other cultures, I also overtime developed an accent other French speakers claim they are unable to place with a specific place. I don’t know if that helped, but as an anglophone, I feel my dream of acquiring Parisian standard French was flawed. In retrospect it was flawed because no matter how I speak or how anyone else speaks for that matter, the key thing is the ability to be all rounded enough to understand when an African, Canadian, Island dweller (Caribbean) or European spoke to me in French. My goal as a French speaker is to understand and be understood and not have a bias against different accents. A year of surviving the swift Parisian and Rennais accents taught me above all things to tune my ears to be able to pick up what was being said to me since these were not as slow or  as stressed as African delivered French.

Talking and listening to American professors who have studied French language and have managed to perfect their French despite an overwhelming urge to gloss over words with American linguistic trade marks such as the infamous ‘R’ sound; the very sound that the French also emphasize especially with the throat and not the lips, I feel I’ve come a long way. Even in the same country, people based on their origins, native language and many other factors, would always have accents.

Accents are a huge issue. My professor argued that if people sought to have neutral accents, things would be better. I’m still thinking about how possible that is.  Accents are still a huge deal though, huge enough to make a person lose their self esteem and huger enough to leave impressions and conclusions and even stereotypes about the person before they have hardly finished their sentence. However, through all of this, I think the most important question is the ability to understand what the other person is saying. Understanding accents, cutting through this layer of haze (if you like) is the most important thing, so i’ll conclude by saying seek to understand, that’s the bigger thing at stake, not necessarily  the battle of accents much like the overrated Ghana and Nigerian Jollof.

What to do with a lying Tongue

She’d spoken about him for weeks and frankly all the other girl wanted to do was to meet him. Let’s see who he is already! She thought about high school where girls would go on for days on end about boys they had crushes on and how they couldn’t wait to have them come up the hill to see them for nothing more than a conversation, a hand squeeze and maybe a hug or two all under the eagle eyes of teachers who thought no better of these girls. Why did these adults think so lowly of the girls anyway? Had they themselves been this unworthy of trust when they were growing up? Or it just had to do with this generation and how untamable they were? Back to the subject of the boy, yeah she really was curious to see him. Not that she was that thirsty or ‘boyco’ (boy conscious), it was just that when you kept hearing a name, all you wanted to do next after a while would naturally be to put a face to the name…….and well also to decide if the face matches your expectations…there, I said it ! Evil grin..

So she met him; AND when she did, she was with Ewurama who decided to pull her along. They had just stumbled out of Rahama, the best Ghanaian food place literally in all of Virginia where she’d bought a pack of spicy jollof with fried plantains for herself and a pack of boiling green soup and Tuo Zaafi for the glutton she called a sister. Now to the man’s place. They get there, get dilly dallied by concierge and then finally up to the apartment he called a home. Door’s open, someone is home, music playing, lights low, we look round, no one…so where is he though?!…Oh he’s in the bathroom…well okay, either way, today be today.

She takes in the space, it looks clean and kept. A single bookcase sits up against a wall in between two impressive windows that rise from the floor to the ceiling. The windows give an impression of actually being on a roof top with no barriers because the view below is both intimidating and beautiful. His apartment overlooks a busy mall and is very well situated meaning he probably pays a lot for this space. She goes through the books to get a sense of who this person is and quickly finds that these are books she loves. Well the fact that he has a bookcase full of books you like doesn’t mean anything. So relax.

Her sister and Mr. Steele seem quite fond of each other. Mr. Steele does his part of playing the role of a perfect gentleman. He seems well put together, appearance wise albeit not that drop dead gorgeous. He takes both ladies out for dinner and the evening ends with good conversation and the perfect feeling of time well spent with good company. All this awesomeness which is perfect but does not quite become that perfect since its not a fairy tale. Fast forward into the future, Mr. Steele tries to stir up trouble between sisters. All he has to do is tell Ewurama something mean about her sister, something mundane like oh your sister is jealous of you. Really? So  be careful…….People still say backward stuff like this in this century? Ewurama decides to reveal these details weeks and weeks later after Mr. Steele says this to her. Sister in turn decides to tell Ewurama about how Mr. Steele tried to touch her inappropriately. Shall we confront Mr. Steele? Ewurama wants to do that immediately yet sister feels rather amused by the shallow turn of events. Me jealous?! Wow that’s a first. Yet questions still hang…

Why would he even say that and why would she also be amused by the ‘shallow turn of events?’


Akata Witch

The very first thing that pulled me to this book is it’s fierce title. I know the word ‘Akata’ is used in reference to people of African American descent but also literally translates as a wild cat (or that’s what the Nigerians said). Well, flipping the first few pages of this book, I realize there is more to the meaning of the word ‘Akata’;  the protagonist is an American of Nigerian descent who is also coincidentally albino. She finds out later that she possesses magical powers and that her suspicions of not being as normal as every other kid her age is right. She seamlessly finds herself in the company of two friends who also possess magical powers and her quest of self discovery begins.

Though beautifully written, and with a title that draws one in with an urgency to satisfy some curiosity, I found it quite hard completing this book, (and maybe I should have) but it felt like a Nigerian version of Harry Potter. Three friends, Orlu, Sunny and a third same as Harry, Ron and Hermoine, the whole magical powers aspect and the fact that there exists a human world which is different from the world of the paranormal beings though they all exist simultaneously and the paranormals look normal to humans. All these elements killed the interest and urgency to complete the book because I felt like it was something I had seen before. I liked the frequent references to Nigerian and American elements though, like kids wearing converse all star shoes and all but then I also struggled to keep a keen interest in the events that unfolded in the story. Maybe I’ll come back to this novel in future with a different pair of eyes. Or maybe someone would challenge me and actually help me see what I did not see earlier…

I’d be glad to hear from other readers who have different perspectives about this book!

Les Mouches – The Flies, Jean Paul Sartre

Why you need to read this play..

The ideology of existentialism presents the notion of finding the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. It has a slight penchant towards atheism since this same concept also alludes to being self reliant and independent ( not relying on external sources, a higher being etc)

So the play mainly presents us the city of Argos which is in great agony (great agony, I know! Colloquial language! sigh!) because the new tyrant king has successfully brainwashed the people into thinking that they must share the guilt of his murdering the legitimate king. For this reason, they celebrate a ridiculous festival of the dead, (‘festival des morts’) to ask the dead for forgiveness for living while they stay frozen in the land of the dead. Then there is the God Jupiter who seems to be happy about the whole situation and actually feeds off of people’s guilt. His aim is to keep a person crippled and under his power by reminding them of their guilt. Jupiter does not fail to remind the current king that the slain king’s blood is on his hands. The queen (Clytemnestre) who is also guilt ridden has a deathly face which is as cold and as unfeeling to the point that her own daughter Electre can not stand being around her.

The pivotal and didactic part of the play comes up with the arrival of Orestre who refuses to go with the culture of guilt that exists in the city. Orestre is important because he is the legitimate hier to the throne; as a baby, he is given to strangers who are leaving to another city so he is unable to grow in his own legitimate country; but luckily he grows in the care of an affluent couple in a city where life, beauty and harmony reside so to arrive in his native country and meet a place that is physically filthy and reeking of guilt, fear and regret is something Orestre is simply unable to accept. He reveals himself to his sister Electre and together they decide to assassinate the king and their mother who they both agree is disgusting. After the initial murder of the king, Electre crumbles with guilt and is unable to go shake the guilt off or continue with the two’s initial plot. Now the flies are literally the workers of the God Jupiter who feed off of people’s guilt and create this false sense of being a safe haven. Jupiter and the flies’  secret aim though is to encourage dependency so that he/they uses this tool to forever remind the victim of his or her guilt which makes him/them happy.

Why I love this play

This play has a background that touches slightly on French history and hard times the German occupation of France brought in 1943. The play is also very dramatic and has strong symbols that are used to convey good ideas. Example are how the flies/ Les Mouches are the physical representation of the guilt one feels. Flies are attracted when there is something unpleasant or something that appeals to them (which we generally know is disgusting), therefore the flies used in this play communicates a sense of the damaging and ugly effects of guilt. If you reek of guilt, you attract flies which hound you for life until you get the courage to shake them off. We also learn that one of the components that attract guilt is regret. I like this play because it draws you in and throws a lot of issues at you but at the same time, it contains rich information perfect for analyses.