Language Instructors Elephants

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Language stories: I was taught Igbo and Pidgen but was stationed in an Effic (Annang) speaking area. I have already mentioned how I got my nickname. Here are two other stories.

Training story

One of many embarrassing moments in training. I was not very good with speaking languages. In truth I only had 3 years of high school Latin and avoided Spanish and French. I only had two years of College and skipped language. Understand that a Great Uncle of mine spoke 26 languages fluently and is said to have founded the Bureau of Translation in the US State Department. His brother, my grandfather (son of missionaries) spoke English, French, Classic Greek, Modern Greek, Turkish, and Latin upon his arrival in the US to attend school at the age of 12. These talents never materialized with me.

I was assigned to the Eastern Region group in our Peace Corps Training. We were taught Igbo and pidgen English. One of my most embarrassing moments came when I left the dining room after attending classes for maybe a week. I saw a group of our Igbo language instructors. My first instructor called me over. Another asked, "Oh so this is one of your students? So what can you say in Igbo besides greet us?"

For some reason I was feeling brave. I had just memorized the Igbo word for friend and how to makes something possessive. With a big smile I put my arm around my short and somewhat stocky instructor and said "Ah bu enyim". All the instructors started laughing. This was not a polite laugh of appreciation but a belly shaking laugh of a great joke. "This is my friend," should not get quiet that laugh

My Great Uncle Emerson's genes might have warned me about Igbo. It is a tonal language, so a word that may look the same, may have a completely different meaning depending upon how one tone compared to another.

Well, I had thrown my arm around my instructor and proudly proclaimed that "He is my elephant".

Vigilant Post Script

My language abilities from Michigan State University Igbo Language training, sort of got me into trouble just before I was evacuated from Biafra via Port Harcourt. As the longest serving PCV in the southern part of the Eastern Region, I was asked to move to the Peace Corps office in Aba (an Igbo speaking area) from my usual station in Ikot Ekpene (an Effic or Annang speaking area).

One day I tried to cut through the huge Aba market to get back to the office, in my plainly marked "Rural Development" Land Rover. I realized that the market was much bigger than the one in Ikot Ekpene and I was almost lost. So I stopped and two men who were talking in the middle of the road came over and asked if they could help. One of them volunteered to direct me out of the market if I would drop him in another part of town. I agreed.

The two men said good by. One of our language instructors was from Umuahia. Without putting too fine a point on it, he talked through his nose. I clearly heard one of the men speaking Igbo with the same kind of dialect as my language instructor.

All over Biafra at the time were posters with the headlines "Be vigilant", why didn't I keep my mouth shut? My guide asked me where I was from. I said I was from Ikot Ekpene. He was a little annoyed and asked what country I was from. I told him I was a United State Peace Corps Volunteer who had been working for the Ministry of Rural Development for the last two years in Ikot Ekpene. Today I forget how it happened, I think he asked me if I spoke any Igbo. In Igbo I told him "I speak a little Igbo", then asked in Igbo "Where are you from?".

I think he corrected my Igbo and said Aba. In English I asked where in Umuahia his friend was from, and explained that some of my group was there. This was the wrong thing for a dumb ignorant stranger to ask a vigilant Biafrian. He asked me sharply how I knew that. I tried not to laugh and said because he talks like this (and gave the Igbo leaving greeting by speaking though my nose.) My guide ended up by directing me to a Police Station. I was detained there because I was a suspicious person and a stranger who my guide did not know. I was steaming mad.

Eventually and in good time after refusing to write out a statement, I saw someone in authority (perhaps the commander of the station) and my guide. The commander turned to my guide and said that I was known as a real friend of Biafra. He thanked my guide for his vigilance. After my guide had left, I was asked what had happened. I first asked the commander where he was was from, I think it was Onitsha. So I explained how my first language instructor was from Onitsha but my second language instructor was from Umuahia and spoke through his nose just like my guide's friend. Everyone in the room laughed and confirmed that some people in Umuahia spoke that way. The commander apologized for detaining me because I recognized an Igbo dialect.

A couple of weeks later, I hauled a drunk who was trying to search me at a roadblock outside of Aba, into the same Police Station. The drunk and some others from the roadblock thought I was turning myself in as a spy or something. With a big smile as I walked in the door, I grabbed the drunk's arm and loudly announced that I had found a stranger who was acting suspiciously and was giving Biafra a bad name. I was thanked for my vigilance and I returned to the Peace Corp office.

Franconia post post script

And many years later, in my small rural village in Northern New Hampshire, an Nigerian family came to town. Dad was on his way to obtaining a PhD and was working as a social worker. I initially was told they were from Lagos. In our first meeting, I naturally responded with an ah dim ma! when they told me they were from Onitsha. Chicka immediately started dancing about and asked in English, "How do you know 'ah dim ma'?". This allowed me, much to my delight, to rattle off in Igbo "I speak a little Igbo". I lent them my Igbo book because none of their 3 kids spoke any Igbo.

Wonderful.--Rcollman 23:51, 4 November 2007 (EST)


Here is page 20 from Nigeria XVI Ibgo text book Image:Igbo text 20.jpg.

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