Friday, November 02, 2007

RTF: What’s Your Dreaming Lingo?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like cold weather. Much to my dislike, the temperatures are dipping on a daily basis now that winter is just across the corner. If you are in Bongoland and you have never experienced this, you probably could never relate. I know that I could whine as much as I like, but that won’t change God’s design.

So I have just to zip it up and move on. Besides, there are more than 300 million human beings in the United States of America going through the same. I have to admit it though, this is the time I miss the warm weather in Bongoland. See how our priorities and preferences change? One day I am up and arms against Bongoland, the next I want to go back. I think human beings are naturally conflicted. Sometimes we don’t make sense.

It is Friday and I allowing my mind to wander around. Just yesterday I was thinking of this. Honestly, if you are a Tanzanian, where your first language is Swahili, then regardless of where you are currently stationed in this globe and the language you utilize to communicate with people around you, occasionally Swahili will pop up in your head. So my question is this: which language do you typically dream in? Primarily English? Swedish? Polish? Swahili?

I think it is very funny that when I first came to the United States, I used to solve mathematical problems silently in Swahili and then provide an answer in English. Unfortunately for me, there was only one other Tanzanian in the same school. The other Tanzanian was a junior (third year student) when I was a freshman (first year student). As such, he had established his own social clique. Coupled with the fact that we both had to complete our weekly Labor Program assignments (Berea College, my alma mater, required all students to work a minimum of ten hours weekly as part of the scholarship stipulation) and regular schoolwork, we had very limited interaction.

You can only guess what happened next for me. Being is a situation where I had to choice but to use English on a constant basis led to my diminished ability to process concepts in Swahili fast enough. I am still puzzled at this concept, but I could be true that anything in your body – be it your muscles, brain, bones etc that are not exercised and remains idle for an extended period lose their ability. I am convinced that also extends to even linguistic abilities.

I knew that I was losing my Swahili when I talked to my mom. See, though my situation is not overly unique (as there are plenty of other Tanzanians in the same boat), it presents its own challenges. My mom is located in Shirati, Tarime, where the predominant language is Luo. Well, this much I know about Luos, they are very proud of their heritage, which includes their own language. As a matter of fact, they have a website where there are stories in Luo. Can you believe that? If you think I am kidding, visit

So can you see the social expectations that are upon me? Particularly based on the fact that I am man expected to carry out family traditions and all that jazz that comes with it? Well, on of them is the ability to speak Luo. As a general rule, when I talk to my mom, the conversation is expected to take place in Luo. I have always gotten away with not speaking in Luo sometimes because nimekulia mjini kidogo. I typically use that mjini card when I can’t articulate my position well enough in Luo. So what happened when you can’t even articulate a concept well in Swahili? It is a mess.

See, what happened to me was that I would be on the other hand of the telephone with my mom trying to translate what I wanted to say from English, to Swahili then to Luo. It some cases, I could just jump from English to Luo, but that did not help with the time lag that required to complete the interpretation. That really stunk. Did I mention the unintended “ums” and “yeahs” that flew out of my mouth at unconscious level? At one point my mother was bold enough to tell me that my accent, my voice, or something has changed.

See, I used to be critical of folks who would come home from majuu with certain mannerisms that I thought were a little on the side of kujidai. Obviously, I knew little how one’s social environment has so much influence to the extent that we acquire and assimilate to certain social tendencies. We do that to as a matter of choice, but as a matter of survival. No one wants to be a social outcast. I found out quickly that some social skills that served me well in the Tanzanian didn’t work well in my new environment. Certain habits, like keeping time in the United States are necessary, but trying to do that in Tanzania would definitely get you a quick label of uzungu. See my point?

I don’t remember all my dreams, but I would want to believe that I dream in English now. I know that for sure because I dream in English in the first days I go to Tanzania. Then it switches to Swahili at some point. The same is true when I come back to the United States, dream in Swahili for the first few days then switch to English.

So what language do you dream in? Happy dreaming and enjoy your weekend.



Janam said...

Mr Metty
I got to your blog through bongoradio-links recently and I'm an occasional reader of your posts i.e when I have time which is about once a fortnight.
This one about the languages we dream in or even think when we are multilingual is interesting!I was once startled by an aquintance of mine in this country where I have been living for the past two decades,when He asked me in which language are my thoughts?!Frankly prior to that I haven't thought about it!!But after awhile I came to the conclusion that it all depends on the setting[places],persons,situations but things get really interesting when in one dream you travel from let's say poland to bongo through the uk, france!!I used to stuggle against a habit of answering the phone in the language of the country I have just arrived from!It's amazing how our brains can cope with all that especially when we are slumbering!Anyways most people in africa or at least in bongo are bilingual or even trilingual due to the fact that one has to know the language of the neighbouring tribe in order to interact[Although Mr Watson is probably unaware of this fact!].I checked the jaluo link and although I undestand the language and can speak it I found the text quite intriguing!I have never written a letter in the language!

Jaduong Metty said...

The more you think about life, you realize that there are aspects of it we hardly take a second to think about. The language we dream in, is certainly one of them.

I am glad you occassionally pay a visit to this blog. That is encouraging. Please keep coming.