5 weeks in, a lifeline of linguistic ability arrives to pull me from gulping the occasional mouthful of water as I struggle to remain afloat in my communication with my family, to being solidly installed on a sturdy log resting above the water level (although occasionally it rolls and flips me under without warning). With the entrance of 5 high school students into my life with my family, boarders while they attend the high school across the road, I suddenly have a wealth of knowledge open up to me because they speak both Dagbani and English. What a goldmine. As I learn things I’ve been wondering for the past month and more, such as “whose kid is that actually? and wait they’re not married? and what is in this food that I’ve been eating?” I heave a sigh of relief as my daily life now includes many translators and conversation partners that extend beyond the basic acknowledgement of existence.
But as I’ve gotten more and more daring with mixing and repeating my patchwork-learned Dagbani like an overenthusiastic parrot, I have coaxed a hidden cache of English words and concepts from various members of the family. Rouieya, my young housemate, talks to me about where I got my shirt sewed, and while our conversation consists of stilted sentences which alternate English and Dagbani words, the roadblocks to mutual understanding become mere speedbumps, and though it is at times a rough ride, we start to actually talk to each other, ask and respond, think and consider.
And Gani, my (pretty obvious) favourite of the household, is telling me about the names of the trees and the stars, as we are walking down the road to deliver a radio to the newly opened neighbouring girls’ school. I am asking him about his plans to travel to Accra if he has the money, and he is talking about his cousins and friends who have made the trip before him, and what is holding him back. Though it’s maybe 30-odd words that he makes the effort to share with me, I am understanding some of his halting hesitancy. This is the uncertainty and potential for embarrassment that I have battled with over the past months. A part of me grins inwardly about this heroic show of trust that Gani is giving me with every word. A part of me loves that we are talking about things that are actually meaningful for him. And a part of me is annoyed that we still hit walls every few minutes, where he is trying to say something or I am trying to ask something and no matter what effort we expend, we cannot find a path through this thicket of words that are unintelligible between the pair of us.