learning a language

Terry and I took the same bus to school each day, he teaching at the university, I as an English instructor at the Teacher Training College of Abidjan. We both spoke French fluently, and had been placed in a dioula class during training, resulting in our enjoying chatting, both in French and dioula, in the bus with the regular early-morning passengers. As we got to know our fellow commuters a bit better, they took an interest in us and began to teach us some local slang. When someone asked if we earned a substantial salary, we answered "wari t'en fe" (I have no money). A friend, noting we were talking like a book, jokingly corrected us, indicating we should say "wari t'en kunh" (I'm broke). Terry and I loved that our friends were including us in their culture and that everyone was having a good time. One day, however, a new passenger got on the bus, a very well-dressed African none of us had ever seen on this particular run. When he spied Terry and me, assuming we were well-to-do French businessmen or perhaps tourists, he began to berate us, accusing us of being too cheap to use our own cars. Everyone in the bus was dead silent during his tirade. When he finally finished his tongue-lashing, I replied to him "wari t'en kunh"... Everyone in the bus - except for one person - burst out laughing and hooting. Very embarrassed, the gentleman got off at the next stop, leaving us with a great story to tell later that day.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.