Recently, I saw a drawing that had the word birth on one side, death on the other and a puzzled looking man in between. Its message was we’re born, suffer confusion/anxiety, and then we die, which is a pretty accurate description of life if you’re a pessimist.
The issue of identity is not the most pressing in the world. You cannot die from an identity crisis, unless it makes you so miserable that you kill yourself. It’s not as critical as hunger or thirst and yet it’s just as inescapable, and can make you blind to all the blessings in your life. Even if we were still in the Garden of Eden, I’m sure self-definition would still be a thing to grapple with. In fact, let’s for a moment consider how things would be if Adam and Eve hadn’t gone munching on forbidden things.
Death wouldn’t exist which I assume means we wouldn’t age. Adam would be the oldest and probably most attractive man because of all the wisdom that comes with time. But we’d be sinless, right? So we young women wouldn’t covet him. We’d have our own young mates. What would the age of consent be, though? 1 million years?
We’d be asking questions like, ‘How do I, a woman in my twenties contribute to a society that is run by people who are several million years older than I am?’ But wait, we’d be unable to think, right? Meaning we’d be floating about in bubbles of euphoria? Oh boy. Let’s rein this in and go back to discussing identity as it exists in the real world.
During a recent Blogger’s Happy Hour at Mateos, there was an argument about whether or not Africans should recognize tribes and the territorial boundaries that the colonialists imposed on us. As the argument grew, English, the speaking and owning of it, came up.
Africa and its people have been through a lot of ugliness. The continent is still being plundered and exploited both openly and in secret. I’m sometimes jealous about how successful Kenya and Tanzania have been at integrating Kiswahili into their schools and everyday life (even though that language also has foreign influences) because Uganda just seems complacent in comparison with the way it’s taken English up and made it into a standard that people have to rise to or else get belittled.
Our children get beaten and shamed at school for speaking local languages, which have all been grouped under one word, “vernacular”. If you have a British or American accent, the people around you will be simultaneously envious and impressed and many Ugandans have a complex where they’re suspicious of anybody who speaks ‘like a white’ but will return twisting their tongues even after 5 minutes of being on foreign soil.
All this said; how do we make this less than desirable system work for us on a day to day basis? Most opportunities come riding on the back of an education given to us in English. It is not reasonable or beneficial to carry around bitterness against the colonialists and it would be suicidal to cast English aside and refuse to trade, communicate and make a living from and in it.
Chimamanda Ngozi once said that, “English is mine. It has become mine.” For peace of mind and prosperity, that’s the best attitude to take. When Life hands you a foreign language (and culture), turn it into money, books and a testament to how interesting living as part of a dual-culture can be.