This weekend I took a trip to a conference Arizona, and even though I wasn’t planning on practicing my Somali much, I ended up doing more than usual. I look forward these days to spending time in airports, looking for East African adventures.
On the plane, I did some Somali homework. Because of my preparations for this conference, I had been putting my language-study on the back burner. With my conference paper done, though, I had some precious, uninterrupted time on the plane to work on Somali.
When I got through the Phoenix airport to the rental car shuttle, I noticed a worker with the familiar features of a small mouth and skin the color of cafe au lait. His name tag said “Jamal.” Soomaali miyaad tahay? “Are you Somali?” I asked. His eyes got big, he smiled, and said, Haa! “Yes!” We only had a moment to chat as I boarded the bus.
On the way home, I dropped off my rental car and at the shuttles, I had a surprise. I saw him again: Nabad, walaal? “Is it peace, brother?”
“You again!” he said. We had another chat, and he showed me off to his Ghanaian co-worker. “This guy studies my language!”
I reminded myself that I should take an opportunity to practice and learn. I asked him how to say, “How long have you lived here?” which he taught me.
Inside, when I was getting coffee, I saw a worker whose features I thought I also might recognize. Once more: practice and learn! Soomali miyaad tahay? I asked again. A big smile, and a response in Somali, “How do you know the Somali language?” My response, “I’m from Minnesota,” with a big smile.
He spoke to the man at the coffee shop, “He’s from Minnesota and speaks my language!”
“Why Minnesota?” the coffee shop worker asked, logically.
Moqdishu u Mississippi “Mogadishu on the Mississippi” I joked. The Somali man explained to the coffee shop worker that Minnesota is full of Somalis. The Somali man himself followed with the most common question, usually asked by Anglos: “But why do they go to Minnesota? It’s so cold there! Why don’t they come here?”
“Maybe they should all go to San Diego? It’s always nice there!” I said.
I had a brief chat with this man, and I got to ask my new phrase, “How long have you lived here?” “16 years,” he said. Then we had to go our separate ways. Barasho wanaagsan! we said.
I’m grateful for these men who helped me with my Somali, and their big smiles and proud announcements to their colleagues. They are the ones who keep me motivated.
On the plane, I also saw the recent movie, “The Good Lie,” about a group of Sudanese refugees who trek across the desert as children and eventually come to Kansas City in the US. They deal with the pain of their past as well as the hardship of making their dreams reality in the face of their extreme foreignness.
Although the story is a bit choppy, the authenticity is wonderful and I would recommend it to those who are interested in the daily challenges of East African refugees in the West.
Have you gone on any language adventures recently? Have you been the motivator of anyone else’s language love?