Team Mokimo: A Cultural Crisis

A friend asked me what language I think in. I could not say. Is that weird?

Normally I know. But lately for some reason I can’t tell. I don’t feel slow. I feel as alert as ever.

She was on Skype talking to colleagues in New York on loud speaker. She had set up herself all the way in the kitchen where she could enjoy better connectivity on her laptop, while I surfed the net on my phone in her living room. I was on recess and didn’t quite want to spend it at home this time, so I was on guest status for two nights. We holidayed the first day, then she worked from home on the second.

She is a newbie at her place of work and the conference she was organizing was clearly a big deal, necessitating her to consult literally beyond borders. I could hear automated dialing prompts before her call was connected, and soon after a voice was heard on the other end of the line. They began with pleasantries before getting to the heart of the matter. They had clearly grown very familiar with each other.

My friend for instance talked of how she could still easily get lost in New York despite a previous stay there because all she had used for commute was the subway.

‘I have never been in the city at ground level..’

They laughed at the realization.

My friend’s colleague’s accent was what I would call the progeny of the White American New York female dialect. You know, the kind that would articulate a statement with the tone of a query. Uber Hollywood. Very Kim Kardashian. They spoke formalities and informalities for close to an hour.

As I proceeded to mind my own business, I could not help but marvel at my friend’s ability to ‘hold her own’ in the conversation. I would have bit my tongue straight after saying hallo, then stammered my way to first grade English. Never mind that I could communicate in the language with my parents since before I started school, and that my dad’s knack for grammar is the Queen’s sort. You couldn’t possibly play it down.

So I commended her soon after. She laughed it off and asked what my first language is while explaining that she learnt English almost at par with Kikuyu, and that she could never pray completely in Kiswahili. She also wanted to know what language I apply in my thoughts.

I’d call it a mash up at this point. I did start off with Kiswahili, then English, but I’m a grown woman in campus now with teenagers and twenty year olds from all over the globe. What they speak is not what you and I would call typical – that’s if you are like me – such that for once in my life I chew a blackout when my brain is at work. Oxymoron, no? Point made.

Nor did I ever learn vernacular from my paternal or my maternal side. Probably that’s a save in favor of this course. Not so much for my person, though, from a social perspective. It means blank stares and deadened smiles every time grandma responds to my greetings with an exciting story or some juicy gossip from the village in familiar language, then veers off into the literary unknown, just when it was getting to the good part, to the amusement of my mother. Sigh. Woes, I tell you. And family reunions were warranted every Christmas.

I wonder who will save me now. I know that voice of thought is manipulated by habit. I spend a lot more time with classmates than with the faculty. Therefore, I can’t constantly be applying Buckingham rhetoric when they come to me with boy trouble or some other ‘OMG!’ adolescent crisis, or for a synopsis of an episode of Keeping Up With The Dashes, can I? Never mind that I am majoring in English and Literature. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

So anyway, here I am. A mash up. What my Cucu would call Mokimo, if not Madhugudhanio. Or a salad. And when has a salad ever harmed anyone?


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