I grew up in Africa. Don’t be sorry for me

I grew up in Africa. Don’t be sorry for me by Naofal Ali in Medium

To understand this article, two precisions are needed. I was born and have grown up in Benin (a west African Country), and I’m presently living in Paris.

A simple fact makes me write this post. Each time my European colleagues and friends ask me about my life course, I naturally answer them i’m from Benin. It’s my birth country and the place I have grown up in. Then, something incredible always follows: I read pity in their faces.

At that moment, their facial expressions silently shout at me “Oh the poor little guy. How sad and traumatic his childhood should have been”. People feel sorry for me, sorry I was born and have been raised in an African country.

Dear people, henceforth, do not be sorry for me anymore. I’m okay! Actually i’m even fine, and growing up in Africa is still the best thing ever in my life. I’m going to tell you why, with the hope it will make your vision less naive.

“In countries like Africa”

For your information Africa is not a country. It’s a 54 countries continent and each has its own realities. Are North Korea and South Korea the same ? Colombia and Brazil ? France and Italy? You know they are not. So when the will you understand the same goes for us ?!

“The war zone”

Even if all you heard about Africa is CNN sad news and safaris, be smarter than that. There are not conflicts all over the continent ! Of course we have our own issues, but who hasn’t ? You got FARCs in South America, Ukraine issues in Europe, and Palestine in Asia. You see ? Problems are everywhere, not only in Africa.

“Poor people”

I know it can sound weird but the notion of poverty is a way more complex than you actually think. According to you, is someone with an annual wage of 10 000 euros a year poor ? I guess yes. Actually, with that ‘’low wage’’ in Benin you can live four times better than with the quadruple in Paris. Your house will be better, your food will be better, you’ll have more people to count on, your job and your life will be less stressful, and as bonus you’ll get a tropical wheather 7 days a week. Don’t just make currencies’ calculations, it just distorts reality. As far as your means allow you to live in comfort where you are, you are not poor, and many of Africans are in the case.

‘’No social life’’

In Africa, family and friendship mean so much to us. No matter the situation you are dealing with, someone always got your back. Our grandparents don’t live in rest houses, our mothers don’t feel concern in who will keep their babies because all their relatives want to. We have the lowest suicide rate in the world, and it shows how much we appreciate life. We do not wait for Facebook to have hundreds of friends, we do not wait for Blablacar to share cars. We do not wait for Airbnb to welcome people in our houses for free. We do not wait for “vizeat” to share our home-cooked meals. In fact, your social revolution is our everyday life. Sharing is not a new business trend in Africa. We got it in our DNA. Values, help, friendship, sharing, and sense of family. That’s what social life is made of in Africa. Not only of stupid images you watch on TV.

‘’No technolgy’’

I confess we have no high speed internet, many electricity issues, no subway, no high speed trains, only few malls, and sometimes, it really turns out to be problematic. But take a step back, and look around you. See the life that we’re living these years in western countries. Parents are afraid of GMO’s in their babies’ food, citizens are afraid of terrorism threats, people are being watched permanently by governments, banks are playing dirty with workers savings, Isis is turning vulnerable teenagers in radical islamists on the internet. So, maybe Western countries have opportunities that we don’t. But the same goes for their problems.

Once again dear non-African reader, don’t be sorry for me. Growing up in Africa is the best thing life ever gave me. Just raise your eyes. The world is larger, and more complex than you might think.

Hi, I’m Naofal. I’ve grown up in Benin and I’m fine.
Nice to meet you.

Dr. Tina: I loved this article so much, I am inspired to write my own article titled “I grew up in Cameroon, please don’t feel sorry for me”.

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Newton’s First Law of Motion in Pidgin

 

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ENGLISH:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

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PIDGIN:

Any object wey i no di waka go sheedon for the same place; and any object wey i di waka go continue waka unless some outside force cam affect am.

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Wow this was much more difficult than I thought it would be. Let me know what you think.

I recognize  that we are all overworkedover exposed and over stimulated today but if you liked this article, consider liking it and sharing it with a friendfamily member, colleague, hater or frenemy!

Share your thoughts below, I can’t wait to hear from YOU!

 

 

TRANSLATION

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Languages are a beautiful thing. I have always been  intrigued by languages and the cultures they unfold. I was so passionate about languages that at age 18 I set a goal to be fluent in 5 languages by age 25. Well… things did not go according to plan. I just turned 33 and I am only fluent in 2 languages (English and French). I can barely understand 3rd grade Spanish with a few scattered medical terms. I have a vocabulary of 50 Italian words and I definitely am not fluent in Arabic which was also one of the languages I had planned to learn. I was feeling pretty sad about not meeting my language goals until I remembered that I spoke Pidgin and Franc-Anglais really fluently  bringing my grand total to a whopping 4!

However, I remembered my upbringing and I could hear my teachers from the British system of education say, “Pidgin is not a language, it is a dialect”. At that point I started researching the differences between a language and a dialect.

Oxford dictionary defines a LANGUAGE as:

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. A system of communication used by a particular country or community.

Whereas a DIALECT is defined as:

A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.

It seems in the colonial era, the ‘powers that be’ decided that the countries being annexed were not “civilized” enough to have a language system and therefore these languages were dubbed “dialects” and this erroneous label has been wrongly promulgated though the years.

What most people don’t know is Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Romanian were once considered dialects of Latin.

Meet Durante degli Alighieri also known as Dante

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He was a major Italian poet who was very controversial because he decided to publish his works in Italian which was a language mostly spoken by commoners. During Dante’s era, most literary works were written in Latin which was accessible to only educated audiences. Dante defended the use of modern day vernacular in literature thereby setting a precedent that other writers soon followed. As such, Dante has been credited in playing a critical role in establishing the national language of Italy.

Now let’s focus on one of my favorite languages, Pidgin which comes second only to Franc-Anglais. PIDGIN is the lingua franca for English speaking West African countries. Check out this recent article by BBC who started an initiate to create a service in Pidgin. They are just now recognizing what we have always known, pidgin is an awesome LANGUAGE!!! It is estimated that over 200 million speak Western African Pidgin English between (Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Liberia.

Learning about this Dante and his controversial  prompted me to start a project that I had been putting off months. I have always wanted to translate classic text in literature and science into Pidgin. Imagine listening to the “To be or not to be” speech in Pidgin. I can only imagine it sounding like an Osuofia scene by Nkem Owoh (for those of you not familiar with the name, this is a Nollywood actor). If I could describe Pidgin in one word, I would call it “juicy”. It rolls off the tongue with such ease that once you learn it, you cannot unlearn it.

My goal is to create a body of work that can be of value to some groups that may be marginalized because they may not understand English or French well enough to understand the text to its full extent. I am very excited to start this project and here is list of potential works to be translated into pidgin.

  • The old man and the medal – Ferdinand Oyono
  • Dedication – Wole Soyinka
  • Okwonko’s speech (Things fall apart) – Chinua Achebe
  • To be or not to be (Hamlet) – Shakespeare
  • Newton’s Laws of Motion – Sir Isaac Newton
  •  Marc Antony’s soliloquy (Julius Caesar) – Shakespeare
  • The Raven – Edgar Allen Poe  etc, etc, etc….

I am open to suggestions for new works. I am excited to get started. Of course I am open to submissions of original works in pidgin as a guest author.

I leave you with a quote by Robert Frost: “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”

I recognize we are all overworked, over exposed and over stimulated today but if you liked this article, consider liking it and sharing it with a friend, family member, colleague, hater or frenemy!

Share your thoughts below, I can’t wait to hear from YOU!

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