Home means a million things to a million different people. It could be writing for some, for others it could be food or memories or music or their beds or for many, plainly where the heart is. Being lost is my home- in double heritages; in double centuries; in double identities; in language even. The mélange of all shape my personae or simply, my “lostness!”
I grew up in a blend of cultures and my experiences growing up in all diversity encompass an impressive latitude of how the languages I spoke and how I spoke them led to preconceptions of who I really was; sharp divisions between standards of language and my strange idiolects and a further accentuation on how almost constantly and persistently society deemed me out of place. All these was brought home to me during one of these past days.
If I can vividly recall, it was one of those winter nights when I underestimated the cold and decided to take a walk with a friend. The sky was a black canvas and the canopy of the Schwarzwald was a thick blanket of white. The beauty in the night´s contrasts was impressive but what was even more impressive was the silence. Well, to break the monotony of the sustained uncommunicativeness between my bosom buddy and I, I decided to strike up a conversation in Arabic (a language I thought we were both familiar with until I was somewhat proven wrong)
Enthusiastic enough, I explained to her the unfolding events of my day; how they led to my tiresomeness ad nauseum. Now I must point out that most of my friends are amazing listeners and she is one of them- she clearly understands that the first duty of love is to listen and that’s exactly what she did that night- listened- to the words spoken from my mouth, some threaded in complex narratives; occasionally nodding, sometimes smiling until my ranting came to a halt. Then almost starting the expression of her thought patterns like the beginning of a cruel, absurdist story she assertively responded that with all due respect, my Arabic was simply pathetic- from the ludicrous accent, to the horrible grammar, to everything really. Now this is just a part of the story of my life- a story that only I can tell. But the problem with trying to tell this story is that it has no beginning, no middle and no end…it´s a lost story.
I keep on reminding myself that some people were just raised differently, and I am one of these people. Theoretically, I should identify as a Moru (a central Sudanic tribe); a Mundari and most definitely an urban Kenyan teenager. I grew up speaking Nubi/Juba Arabic (a Sudanese Arabic-based creole language); Swahili (a lingua franca of the African great lakes region); Moru (my mother tongue) and English- one of the official languages of both South Sudan and Kenya. A bit later on I explored the beauties of French and German but that’s another story.
Narrowing down to standard languages and standards of language I´d like to show how the immediate societies I grew up with led to my fears of facing barrages of criticism because of the dialects I spoke in both Arabic and Swahili- a revelation of a colder, more cynical reality. My third visit to South Sudan, my home country was one of the most significant phases of my life. I had pursued nothing more than just the modest aspiration to wake up in the birthplace of my parents- to speak to people I called my own in a unifying language, a language that was the window to our soul I assumed- Arabic. However, the events that unfolded during my visit proved contrary to my expectations- episodes that never quite elude my mind.
My efforts to communicate with my Arabic-speaking extended family were more like flogging a dead horse. In as much as I tried to communicate with the people using my dialect, I was often met with ridicule from the majority who spoke the standard language. They emphasized that my Arabic lacked sophistication, that it was too simple. The laughter galore, oh my! I was disillusioned. It´s so strange how concepts can erode easily, how words we use so lightly can alchemize almost abruptly into something toxic. At that point I felt out of place, I felt different- a foreigner even. I could not fit in just because…This was a country I was supposed to identify with, to relish in but wait…Lost? Perdu?
On a lighter vein, are you familiar with Murphy´s law or rather the buttered toast phenomenon where buttered toast always tends to land butter-side down after it falls? Well, I think that´s my life right there. Being Afro-politan and inspired by Taiye Selasi, a spokesperson of “multi-local” people allow me to say, I tend feel at home and identify more with the towns I visited, lived or even grew up in rather than along the lines of nationality. In my case, I could say I am a local of Nairobi. In Nairobi, we widely speak Swahili and to be honest it´s very flexible and has since been evolving into an urbanized slang known as sheng (it involves code-switching to English, shortening of some words and the creation of totally new words) The pace of the change is too fast and fortunately or unfortunately, I can´t keep up, I never do. As a consequence, I stick to Kiswahili sanifu or rather “standardized” Swahili. My friends have since insisted that I am misplaced and that I belong in Tanzania, a country with a very strong Swahili background. Just to cut this short, I talked to my Tanzanian friend a few weeks ago and she said that she treasured my ´Kenyan´ Swahili because I paid close attention to syntax (something they did not quite care about in Tanzania) So here we go again…Lost? Perdu? Verwitt?
Identity transformation could be one complicated maze, quite painful sometimes, but I am not falling apart yet, just falling into something different again and again- with a new capacity to be beautiful. And maybe one day I could use these beautiful different fragments of Arabic, Swahili, English, Moru, French and German to create a perfectly-blended mosaic. Till then I shan´t absolutely assert that I´m lost because maybe I´m not. But if it happens that I am, then there´s a beauty in being lost and being lost is my home!
3 thoughts on “MY LOSTNESS”
So provoking….wow at least you can speak a vast number of tongues
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Ahaha, its a complication yet a beauty 🙂
There is complex in beauty😂
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