Of foreign accents and strangers visiting
I am certainly not the only 9-5er who wakes up most mornings, snoozes the alarm and spends minutes in bed contemplating how much I need a job. The past few mornings have been no different. It doesn’t help that the neighbour’s kids are on holidays, their voices disrupting my early morning musings, their childish excitement a reminder that I am now an adult with real responsibilities and a real career I have to face every morning. This morning their voices evoke childhood memories, leaving me nostalgic as I remember my own holidays as a child.
Most holidays were routine. A visit to or from our cousins. A visit to our Grandma’s. Then back home. Wake, eat, play, swim, eat, watch TV, sleep, repeat. One of those beautiful holiday afternoons, we had strangers visiting. They were so happy to see us, but we had no idea who these people were and our parents were not home. When they spoke, we didn’t understand diddly-squat so we did the next best thing; left them in the living room to watch the cartoon we had on. I gathered my sisters for an emergency meeting in our bedroom. There were no mobile phones in our day so reaching our parents was out of the question. At the end of the meeting, we came up with a strategy; sit and wait for Mommy to get home. Yeah, as if we had another option.
Our house had a peculiar design, with our bedroom window overlooking the living room. On the days when we were up to some mischief that window was a nuisance, giving us away each time our dad passed by our room. On the day the strangers visited however, this window became our best friend. My sisters and I huddled by the window, peeping through the frayed curtains at these people who looked a lot like us, but spoke in a language we couldn’t decipher. We could make out some English words, but this funee was nothing close to what we heard on TV.
“They are speaking like the people on TV”
“No they are not, the people on TV speak English and we understand them”
“They are Americans”
“But their mom speaks Tiv”
“No, they are from overseas or maybe abroad”
We argued back and forth.
I thought about the word overseas. Was this a country floating somewhere in the sky above us? When it rained, was it really the people overseas peeing on us? How long did it take to get there from Nigeria? What did the people there look like?
Oh the relief when we heard the horn of our mom’s car! We ran out excitedly to tell her about the strangers seated so comfortably in her living room. You should have seen the surprise on our faces when she hugged them, calling each person by name and exchanging pleasantries. It turned out these strangers were actually family visiting from Manchester.
The next few weeks of their stay were exciting times for us as kids. Having cousins from Manchester gave us bragging rights over our friends. It was a tad annoying that they were much older, and so we couldn’t take them out to play with our friends. This however didn’t stop us from interjecting every statement with “That reminds me of what my cousin from England did …” It did not matter if what was being said was totally unrelated or not. Brag we had to, and brag we did.
Their accent got easier on the ears as the days went by. We started to understand that buck’t was bucket and wo’ah was water. There was still a lot we could not construe, but nothing a little sign language couldn’t fix. On one occasion my cousin came to the kitchen asking for the dust’n. Oh the confusion on my sister’s face as she tried to understand what that meant! She looked at the plate in my cousin’s hand. On it was chicken, most of it eaten. Maybe this was meant to be trashed, but why were the bones still intact? It turned out dust’n was dustbin after all.
My neighbour’s kids have their cousins from America visiting this summer. Every morning I wake up to childish banter in a sing-song American accent, the kind that makes every statement seem like a question. Good morning? I’d have some plantain please? It has obviously been an exciting holidays for the kids and I can’t help thinking their cousins’ visit will be a subject of many conversations with their friends when school resumes.
I used to have a colleague who spoke with what he thought was an American accent. This guy in question is Tiv and to the best of my knowledge schooled in Benue State, Nigeria all his life. This dude was always the loudest in the office, always had an opinion about everything, always wanted to be heard. Whenever he got angry or excited though, the fake accent would take the back burner and he would sound like any Tiv guy on the streets of Katsina-ala, complete with misplaced L’s and R’s. The question of where he developed that foreign accent is beyond me. Maybe TV, maybe a visit to the American embassy, maybe a visit from his cousins too, who knows.
My neighbour’s visitors leave soon, and I feel like I have been a part of their holiday, shamelessly eavesdropping from the comfort of my living room.
Agbaya behaviour, I know. I even noticed the kids have picked up some slang words and a bit of an American accent in the few weeks their cousins have been around. How long this new found accent will last is something I am curious about. I’d be at the window of my living room at the beginning of their next holidays, listening to know if the accent survived weeks of frustrating Nigerian boarding school.