Here is the paradox of our time: the English language especially spoken with an American accent and perhaps spoken even in a more difficult British accent has a way of making the local look educated and sophisticated. Between the flowing drinks on the 19th floor of iTowers the local with a fake incomplete education, the hugs, the selfie, the make-up, the pouting & the “Reallys?” and “Wows!” is walking a tight rope of modernization, self-hatred, self-acceptance, self-discovery and dare we say it; self-redefinition. The lady wears an extremely short dress or skirt, drinking wine, and perhaps add to the picture, a cigarette. She dreams of a place, a far away land from the goats, the dust and the donkey – an achievement of some sort she has only seen on some American channel or perhaps glanced at it on the pages of a glossy magazine. What she dreams of is flight – an escape from surroundings and sweltering reality. If she cannot take physical flight, she will take mental flight and journey to what can be. She wants to visit a romantic place, a place called good living or success. Another one changes the tone and wears an African print from West Africa. It communicates her Africanness to the expatriate and somehow this fabric for a while transforms her and makes her an authentically African being; something intriguing – the call of the drum, the rhythm of the feet, the wild scream of one undefiled in the jungle – something screaming to be discovered, taken over, conquered and transported across the pond.
So when the language question arises. When her language question arises, the local talks about Setswana in fascination, the face beaming with pride and crocodile tears about the loss of the language. The language like the crocodile, the lion and the rhino has become exotic – something to consider in fascination. The local declares with pride and vain regret that she has lost the language. She wishes she could speak it like the grandmother and the grandfather, you know. But you know, she grew in Gabs and she hasn’t had the fortune to know the proverb and the idiom. She loves and repeats the idea that Setswana is difficult – It’s hard – that’s what she says. Somehow she believes in her ignorance, in her alienation from herself. Flight from the self and from her culture; flight from her people, her music, and her idiom elevates her to the position of the foreigner – one who comes from there. She delights in this level of weakness – of not knowing. She embraces it. She relishes it. It defines her. She is herself without the self. She is the shell with someone else within and sometimes without. She is someone created in her mind and in the pages of a glossy American magazine. But this self-erasing; this self-mutilation; this self-castration comes from the idea that everything local is not good enough. So the local leader, the local poet and the artist, the local lawyer and engineer share one common feature – they are rubbish. They are lazy – sloths! Ingrates! She has lost all belief in all local institutions: the kgotla, the kgosi and the ngaka are all relics of the past. If the decision were hers, she would get rid of them; she would emasculate them and put in their place an American or European structure. It is not only the local institutions that reek of backwardness; it is the food and the music too. She despises them all. She prefers coffee, English breakfast, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Portuguese cuisine interspersed with American burgers. When she does come around to eat local food, she giggles; she eats them during cultural events that celebrate her unique cultural experience. For to her, culture is nothing that she lives and breathes. Culture is a lifestyle of the poor that she visits once perhaps twice a year. So, once, perhaps twice a year, she eats watermelon, nchwe, kabu, dikgobe or letlhodi. Hers is a life of one in self-induced exile, not just from her own locale, but exile from the self. So she wanders the streets in wonder. She hears the language. She understands what people are saying but she cannot utter a single sentence without mixing it with an English expression. Her tongue as well takes flight every time she tries to speak. It betrays her. But her education has been incomplete. So her words fail her now and then. The ideas are there but the vocabulary is lacking. So she gets frustrated by herself and everybody around her. Nobody understands. Even she doesn’t understand. Hers is a Sisyphean world of futility – of pushing on a bolder that keeps rolling back to the foot of the hill.
She sits at home. Poverty keeps her company. Pictures of her graduation are on the wall. Her certificates have not guaranteed her a job. Her eyes are fixed on the nothingness of her room. She sucks on her cigarette and blows. Her world has become a room and her life has become a huge ball of inescapable nothingness. So that night she will return to the 19th floor of the iTowers in a Romantic escape to relive her life once again.