Tommy, can you hear me?

Lukas Brenard - Senegal

October 28, 2011

Being without certainty of practically any demand given to me is slowly forcing me to silence impulsive behavior.  Any time I assume I know what someone is saying in Wolof or French I make a mistake. I attempt to show them that I understand by saying something which proves I am listening. By doing this I often cut them off before they have finished, sending them off on a tangent trying to fix my clearly faulty understanding. Something as simple as we missed you for lunch becomes an entire Shakespearean act in Wolof which goes entirely over my head though I’m supposed to be the lead character.

I also have noticed that even if I do understand what someone is saying, it is best not to say much to validate my comprehension, as this much can be done without words. As soon as I take my ears and mind off the other person’s dialog to compose my response they have started something new which I have missed because I’m thinking.

A friend of mine once told me that one’s voice is the verification of their existence. When you speak you put ideas, your ideas, out to other people and their response either negates or verifies your doings. Yet, if you can neither negate verify or propose it’s almost as if you don’t exist. What’s stranger still is that perhaps to a degree the people whose language falls on unknowing ears may suffer a shade of isolation as well.

It’s not as though we don’t exist literally speaking. It’s more of a wall that falls between us making each interaction surprisingly dynamic. Because we are seeing each other well and thinking hard about what is meant by each action or sound that is drawn in the sand, yet our shared peace is masked in confusion.

In America our shared peace is masked in the easiness of conversation. With my compatibility with any speaker of the English language it is easy for me to water the moment down with worthless words or pass banter with friends.  Such easy connection could never be considered as bad but it’s strange when silence forces words where they don’t belong. Talking meaninglessly is impulsive and I don’t recommend it, especially if you can’t talk your way out of the repercussions.

That being said, what connections are made are more valuable than ever.  Yesterday I drank Ataya with Baay Faals at work for three hours and tried to figure out a crossword puzzle in French. One of them spoke a little English and when he explained that Camelot in French means rubbish or worthless goods, I immediately thought there was some profound connection to the mythical story of Camelot, and defiantly a connection to Monty Python’s Holy Grail. (After consulting the Internet I find no connection to the story of Camelot). Also each new word or phrase I learn is a tiny step toward my conversational renaissance thus I cling to it with the claws of fiends.

When it’s hard not talking, and feeling like I’m not really there, it helps to think about what conversation really is and why it can be  uncomfortable. I see that while there is comfort in conversation there is weakness also. Like the blind man must learn to hear, those who can’t hear must use sight to understand.  When I can do both I want to use these powers with balance as not to let them grow feeble.



Lukas Brenard