I am pleased to announce to all of you that I am now fluent in the language of my neighbourhood. The fact that I speak any words of bambara at all makes everyone laugh. All the Bambara words I am writing here are purely written phonetically – I can’t even begin to understand how they write the words. A word that sounds like demiseni is actually written den misenw.
To the child yelling BONJOUR!, I reply BONJOUR!
To the child yelling Toubabou! (white person!), I reply demiseni! (child! – somehow it seems less insulting within my cultural framework to yell at someone that they’re a child rather than pointing out the fact that they’re black)
Sometimes, the child yells Toubabou muso! (white woman!) No restraint here, I will heartily reply Farafi demiseni! (black child!)
To the child yelling “Toubabou muso! Donne moi l’argent!” (White woman! Give me money!) I am ready with my reply : Farafi demiseni! Donne moi l’argent!” (Black child! Give me money!)
Tonight, we had a bambara lesson with our guard. This language is going to be tricky to learn – there are no references to any of the languages I know, and people aren’t telling me what individual words mean, they are stringing sentences together, which makes it hard to create my own sentences. Hopefully we’ll be starting more formal lessons soon, as I’m determined to speak functional Bambara before I leave!
I can, however, have a civilized conversation with ladies in the market, as follows :
Alex : I ni sogoma! (Good morning!)
Market lady : In cé (I receive your greeting)
Alex : I ka kéné? (How are you?)
Market lady : Toro cité, è dou?(I am very well, and you?)
Alex : Toro cité! Ika douka kéné wa? (I am very well. How is your family?) (It’s a really big deal here to ask about everyone. If you’re stuck with someone for more than a few minutes, you can expect to go around once or twice – how are you, how is the family, how is your day, how is your wife, how is your house, etc etc)
Market lady : Toro cité! (long string of unintelligible bambara words) (Very well! Long string of unintelligible bambara words)
Alex : Ma foué famou. Bamanankan doni doni. Kou mamfé francela. (I don’t understand anything. Bambara small small. We must speak French)
Market lady : Francela doni doni. Kou mamfé Bamanankan. (French small small. We must speak Bambara)
Alex : Awo, doni doni. Sabali klanché namasa dia. Djolido? (Ok, small small. Give me half a kilo of bananas, please. How much?)
Market lady : Kemefila (One thousand)
Alex : Ayi! Aka guélen toro! (No! That is too expensive!)
Market lady : Ayi amanguélé! (No! That isn’t too expensive!)
Alex : Awo, aka guélen toro! (Yes! That it too expensive!)
Market lady : Awo, kemedo. (Ok, 500)
Alex : Awo. In cé. Métaga sou. (Ok, thank you. I am going home.)
Market lady : Néfara. Cambé! (Enjoy your meal. Goodbye!)
Alex : Cambé sini! (Goodbye! See you tomorrow!)
This is the full extent of my knowledge, and it requires going back and forth in my little notebook. I am also limited to buying things in half-kilos. I can only talk about bananas, dogs and chickens. And I can only announce that I am going home, to work or to the market. Hey man, it’s a start!