I went grocery shopping this morning and had an interesting chat with the lady who owned the shop. She spoke in Yoruba and I spoke in English the whole time and we both left off feeling like, “Yeah, good talk.”
I don’t understand Yoruba at all – and, if I didn’t occasionally ride the bus to work, I’d probably not know “owa”, which I use to signal my stop point. The grocery lady probably understands English but is unable to (or won’t?) speak it, apparently. But I’ll bet she understands English way more than I understand Yoruba. Yet, this obvious language barrier seemed nonexistent when we talked today. Because we both agreed on one thing that transcends language: the rising price of goods.
I basically expressed my shock at why a small bowl of fresh tomatoes had quadrupled in price in the last 5 weeks. She responded with something along the lines of the economic dynamics at play in the market lately (at least, that’s what I hoped she said), coupled with the whole “Change” agenda getting in the way of young, single men like me being able to do our grocery shopping in peace without having to toss whatever shred of dignity we have and haggle over prices. She said all of that in Yoruba and I understood.
I chipped in the occasional “ehen?” or “Mm-hmm” expressing surprise or agreement with her thesis – also, to kind of get off of my English-speaking high horse and whatnot. But she never compromised, not even once did she switch to English. Well, after a long chat, I made payments and left with one thought reinforced in my mind. The need for me to learn a new language.
Well, not necessarily Yoruba, please. I’m not exactly interested enough to commit to it nor do I consider it critical to my survival in Lagos. I spent a year in Abakaliki – where virtually everyone converses in Igbo – and learned only two, maybe three Igbo words and lived out my time there just fine. I think I’ll survive Lagos as well.
But I do want to learn another language just for the heck of it. German, Spanish and French are my top three choices, in no particular order. Also, it’d be cool for the voice in my head to not be English for a change. Maybe we’ll even role play at some point.
I think I might pick up more Yoruba, the longer I stay here. The only snag is that I never get to hear it unless I’m riding the bus or shopping for groceries in Yaba. Also, if and when I stop riding the bus and when I no longer shop for groceries, the chance will be gone altogether. I may have to befriend and marry a Yoruba girl to remedy the situation if it comes down to it. As I said, I’m not sure I’m that vested in learning the language. Yet.