The following story is one that I worked hard on and that I am proud of. In writing it many details surfaced that had no place here: little histories and personality quirks, dreams and complicated dialogues, a few bus rides and some fresh mango jam–just bits and pieces, really. I do carry a small remorse for those, however–for my inability to share the entire picture. But know that I acknowledge the incomplete nature of this blog post, hold the missing pieces dear, and am seeking to share as many of them with you as possible. Without further ado, a story:
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Last week I had a Pulaar lesson at every hour of the waking day. Whether sitting around the bowl at breakfast, lunch, or dinner; wondering the corn-maze paths of Segou or otherwise traveling by foot; while resting and while working, I was drilled, quizzed and ceaselessly encouraged to speak (which is to say, stumble and fumble through) a language that often feels like speaking with marbles in your mouth. Wholly foreign words and phrases were erected in my memory in much the same way that a molasses sculpture might be: carefully supported into being and stickily understood, then gingerly left standing only to ooze back into nothingness moments later. It was not only a new experience, but an unexpected one, too.
More than once, as my brother and I sat repeating the same few introductions hour after hour, trying to carry the conversation a bit further each time, I felt little shards of irritated restlessness chorale my patience intro frustration. And that was uncomfortable. Not merely disagreeable, like those little pebbles that wiggle their way into your shoes, but troubling, like those days you’re on a hike and pebbles pester your feet step after step, until you stop in agitation, defeated. You breathe a ragged breath. You take some time. You seek resolution: You empty your shoes. But, pebbles gone, you find that you are still troubled. Uncomfortable, you cogitate. You soon realize that the pebbles had grown into little tornadoes of rootlessness roiling your heart, rendering it an unfamiliar companion.
And thats how I felt learning Pulaar last week.
It may be a strange explanation but it really is accurate. I had to dig deeper than I could have expected to match cadence with my brothers’ glacially turning clock. If my brother, Adama, didn’t possess the irrefutably prodigious patience that he does, the week would have been different indeed.
I was only in Segou for a week so I knew that this problem wouldn’t last, or at least that I’d get a reprieve, but it was, perhaps a bit masochistically, validating to have faced a challenge that I didn’t expect. One that really dug to the oceans of my being and forced me consciously stretch and adapt.
As this journey continues, as I say my farewells to the city and to our fabulous language teachers and to the beautiful beach that I live near and to so much else–as I transition my life to Segou–I look forward to the challenges that yet await me, lurking in the shadows. I strive to embrace them and when my isolated situation allows, post tales of a few of them on this blog. Until next time, farewell.