By Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva
Photo source: callmemarv.com
Now that I’m famous (let me enjoy it while it lasts now?) I guess the logical/business-minded thing to do is to make my next post somehow related to the post that made me famous… But it’s not…
Okay, maybe a little bit…
So Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo claimed that we misunderstood his article. It was satire, he said. I was told it was meant to demonstrate how East Africans are more interested in “trivial matters” like sex scandals; nothing to do with mocking Burundi. I know a few Burundians who shared the same opinion (more like fell for the lie!) and weren’t as shocked as I was. I also know a few who changed their minds about that opinion when they saw this article, which he wrote about three years ago: Burundi, portrait of a ‘mandazi’ Economy. Anyway, like I said, this post isn’t about Mr Obbo and his stories. It’s about how everything depends on the perspective from which you look at it.
For instance, I don’t understand when Africans – the ones born and raised in Africa – get shocked, offended – or both – when somebody asks why they speak a particular language (like English) so well, a language which isn’t their mother tongue to begin with. I’ve heard African intellectuals complain about it everywhere; even people I actually admire like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I really don’t understand. I actually take those remarks as compliments!
Because let’s face it, English isn’t my mother tongue. My mother tongue is Kirundi. I learnt English in school and it also happens to be the mother tongue of the British man and the American – Pause! Why are they actually called ‘Americans’? America is the continent. The country is the ‘United States of America’… they should be called United St… never mind! Back to perspectives!
So, people tend to forget that English (and French, and Spanish, Portuguese and now Chinese) are NOT “International languages”, but mother tongues of people who happened to be good at invading other countries and imposing themselves. The only reason we speak their languages is because they convinced us that it was necessary, in order for us to be ‘successful’. Hmph.
But go ahead and ask a Muzungu to say a word in Kirundi, or whatever your mother tongue is… Like one of my friend loves to say: it’s a Disaster! Wouldn’t you be surprised if you heard, say a German fluently communicating in your mother tongue, and wouldn’t you ask them why they are so fluent?
Therefore, whenever I’m asked why I speak English so fluently, a big smile comes on my face and I start bragging about my education in International schools here and there… What? On a serious note though, I don’t get offended at all; especially considering that, most of the time, the person asking the question barely speaks two languages i.e. their mother tongue (when they are not American or British) and the English; while I’m fluent in English, French and Kirundi! I think I’m the one in a better position here, regardless of what my accent is like when I speak any of those FOREIGN languages.
Perspective, my friends!
Perspective is also what allowed me to survive the constant “Ko watanguye akazi ukiri muto? Urabishora?” (Translation: aren’t you too young for your job?) that I’ve been subject to almost every single day for the past three years. At first it used to irritate me and make me feel insecure but then I realised that HEY, THEY ARE RIGHT! I AM quite young to be here, and considering that I haven’t cheated anywhere, I MUST be doing something right! So now my reaction has totally changed… I sometimes want people to ask me my age so that they can realise how really young I am. HaHa! (joke not to be taken seriously)
Life has taught me that anything (well, almost anything) can be good or bad depending on where you’re standing when you look at it. The way we often understand things is most of the time influenced by our feelings and insecurities. This also applies to Onyango’s article: while some may have ‘seen’ the satire in it, my opinion is that the style was innappropriate to talk about a country that has been suffering bad press (or no press at all) for far too long. Burundians have been hurt, and you don’t go around making jokes about somebody who has been hurt expecting them to laugh along. Which makes me feel we were right to be offended. But as a potential victim, it’s sometimes good to take a few steps back and really look at the underlying matter(s) – we may realise that we’re actually in the best position. For instance, now I’m realising that the ‘controversial’ article may have done more good than harm: it seems like it’s making certain things change for the better. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll be able to say a big ‘Thank you’ to Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo?
To be continued…
P.S. I realise that Australians, people of New Zealand, Canada and other places also have English as their mother tongue; but I didn’t want to turn this post into a geography lesson. Thank you for your understanding.
Follow Karl-Chris at misterburundi.wordpress.com and on Twitter: @Mr_Burundi