I moved to Bloemfontein in February 2012 to start a new job, which I enjoy tremendously. Well, except for one thing. No one here speaks ENGLISH! I have been lambasted at 6h00 when a patient calls on my company sponsored mobile, just after I got out of bed, and speaks Afrikaans. at the best of times, i barely understand the language, but when i have just woken up it's the worst time. it sounds as good as Greek to me. so i will calmly and very politely cut the irate patient who has a problematic CPAP device and did not enjoy great sleep last night, to explain that i cannot understand Afrikaans, and could they speak English? yo! comments like : "get me someone who can speak Afrikaans!" (spoken in English, and i live home, i start work at 8h30), or :" why do you not speak Afrikaans, no one here speaks English!", (also spoken in English), or better yet :" you should NOT have taken this job if you cannot speak OUR language!" in most cases the phone is then dropped without further comment, or given to a 14 year old who explains the faulty device's problem, or they call again after 15 minutes hoping to find an Afrikaans speaking person this time around (did i mention its a company sponsored cell phone?). once, on a weekend, a patient who wanted an oxygen cylinder delivered to his house twenty five kilometres away from the city told me by the time i got to his house, he expected to speak to me in Afrikaans, to which i responded : " good, because I assume by then you would also have learned to speak Zulu, which is actually the language i regularly speak."
I must say, many a times i have been severely tried and irritated into almost explaining that i am from Soweto, and attended a local school in the location, Zulu was my FIRST language. English my second, Sotho was an optional i learnt on the streets. Afrikaans was introduced to me late in life, two years before my matric, and i had no hope of passing it if i challenged myself to add it to my repetoire. i have, however, committed myself to learning it. i know now to say 'goie more' tot siens', 'dankie' and 'aseblief'. i know a few swear words too, and can implore an old resistent patient to 'moenie rook nie aseblief, 'tis baie geval met die surstof machine om te bruik' . Rome was not built in a day. to be expected to suddenly speak fluently a lanuae i have never even thought to read a newspaper in all my life is a bit ambitious, i am tryin my best, and am one year short of thirty years old, it will be a bit difficult.
South africa is my home too. i can live in any province I choose, I am contributing to the financial well being of our economy and pay my taxes resolutely. as it is, i can speak five indegenous languages. English is not even a language we speak at home, in high school i was told English is the language of operation in the business world, so i really am outside my comfort zone here. i am tired of being made to feel foreign because i cannot speak one language, by people who can only speak one language in a country that had 11 official ones.
we all need to get out of our comfort zone and understand that it is an achievement to learn a language that is not one's own, and not take pride ionto communicating only with one's home language. we as a country are trying to launch ourself into the international market by projects such as the NHI, derived from the ideals of the NHS in Britain, we exchange our currencies with countries using the US dollar, pound and shillling, and we are so widespread that South Africa is the centre piece of all travel and communication of Africa with the other continents. let us not embarass ourselves by self limiting attitudes and treat each other with dignity and respect. the same way i don't expect to walk into a Langenhoven Park, or a farm in Hoopstas with a traditional Afrikaner household and speak Zulu, is the same i expect that with all our many official languages, at some point there will be one common one between us that would enable us to communicate and understand each other.
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