That timid tremble of my tongue as I try to force those vowels and consonants out of my unyielding pie-hole is a familiar feeling no matter what language I am currently spinning or butchering. With practice comes perfection the old adage tells us, but how do you become perfect when your language changes with every audience, between the words that create the meaning to the listeners that re-create their own meaning? Mastering language is probably one of those unappreciated skills that only occurs to you when you witness proficients or personal face-plants.
As I am officially handed over from my co-worker to this tall man in a hat who is apparently the head of this tin-roofed household, I am reassured by the smile and welcoming body posture. I am quickly realising that this body language is going to be my best tether to a semblance of communication, as I meet my roommates for the next 4 months. With a hint of english offered up by one of kids, Baako, I am learning that this is going to be my room, and that I need to eat. As much as I am heartened by these proffered syllables in a language I can clearly understand, it is also clear that Baako has a basic limit to his grasp of english, and that many of my questions are going to be hanging in the air unanswered as our eyes speak rueful apology to each other.
Learning their language, Dagbani, becomes solidified in my mind for the first time as absolutely imperative, and as I pathetically attempt to mime that I have already eaten for the night, and that yes, I do like their food but I am stuffed and tired and no I don’t need some eggs I really am unable to eat another bite and yes please can you help me put up a line for my mosquito net and yes I’d like a bath where is the water am I supposed to bathe here do you have a flashlight yes I’d like to eat again in the morning but please not now I’m tired and could you please get your kids to leave my room now, and lay down for the night, I vow to begin learning in earnest one of the most important tools for my placement over the next 4 months.