Friday, October 2, 2009

The real usefulness of private security

E.E. Evans-Pritchard, of The Nuer and Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande fame, averred that the best way to learn a language is to immerse oneself in the world of children. They speak simply and have no compunction about pointing out one's mistakes. I don't doubt the effectiveness of Evans-Pritchard's method, but nowadays I have another group of teachers to add to it: security guards. Every ex-pat or otherwise wealthy house or business has at least one, but more often two, security guards, and they while away their days with nothing to do amid the alternating squawks of their walkie-talkies and the birds. Thus every time I leave the house and enter an office, I have the chance to exchange pleasantries with four eager conversants.

This morning, for instance, I learned “Mo lango nzoni?" (Have you slept well?), a common morning query, to accompany my comments about the weather (pouring rain). The word for rain in Sango, incidentally, is either poetic or yet another manifestation of African religiosity, or both, depending on your point of view: ngu ti nzapa (god's water).

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