Monday, September 06, 2004

He doesn’t speak the language 

There’s a guy I give a lift to whenever I see him on the way to or from work. His name is Lawrence, although that is the one for English speakers, and his Xhosa name is Siphile, which I have probably spelled wrongly. He works as a gardener at a large house in Bishopscourt, which is probably the most expensive suburb in Cape Town. Lots of mansions, embassies, and about 2 miles from the Thatcher’s place. I know it’s a big house because I have seen it from the road, and he tells me that it has three swimming pools. Three.

Anyway, after picking him up on and off for a week or two, I decided that these free rides had to stop – Lawrence must sing for his supper. We came to an agreement – I’ll try not to crash, and he will try to teach me some Xhosa. We got as far as ‘good morning’ – ‘molo’, and ‘how are you?’ – ‘unjani?’, but much further than that and my memory overflows. The way that I live and work, or maybe just my decaying number of brain cells, has meant that I cannot remember anything unless I see it written down. So now Lawrence gets homework. Last week I gave him some paper and lent him a pen. When I next saw him, the evening of the following day, he had filled 3 pages with vocabulary – wonderful!

What is interesting to me is what he has written. He has recapped some of the stuff I forgot: good morning, how are you, I’m fine, thank you – and has added a lot more. I’m not sure what I would have put if someone had asked me to write down some of my language, so I guess what I have here is a mixture of what he thinks will be useful, and stream of consciousness. There are a lot of pairs: today & tomorrow, house & home, father & mother, here & there. There are also some instructions that he presumably reckons might come in handy: lift it up, bring it, make it quick, bring it back. Then, in a curious synchronicity with my wine / builder problems, which I hadn’t told him about before he made the list, he’s got: to steal, it’s mine, to apologise, and to forgive. Someone is trying to tell me something. In Xhosa this time. Hamba Kakuhle.

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