His name is Chippa. I asked around and found the reason why he spoke Afrikaans so beautifully. For some obscure reason the poor man stutters incredibly when he speaks his mother tongue, Xhosa. When he turns to Afrikaans however, the stutter disappears completely! How astonishing is that?!
I am taking my Xhosa learning serious and already have Michael (my morning taxi driver), Cornelius (security guard at work) and Patrick (cigarette, fruit and vegetables vendor) in on the act.
I ran into Chippa again on my way home today. It must have been very comical for anyone who walked us. This is how the conversation went:
Chippa – face lit up with a huge smile – in Afrikaans: “Good afternoon lady!”
Me – in my newly acquired Xhosa skills: “Molo buti! Unjani?” (Hello, how are you?)
Chippa – blank expression, turning to confusion – still in Afrkaans: “You really started to learn!”.
Me – “Ewe!”
Then turning to Xhosa, testing me, he says “Ndipilile enkosi! Wena unjani?” (I am fine thank you. How are you?)
“Nam ndipilile enkosi!”. (I’m fine too, thank you!)
At this point we both started laughing, realizing how it must look: – a busy taxi rank on a Friday afternoon; white girl speaking Xhosa and black guy speaking Afrikaans! Other Xhosa speakers were questioning him about me speaking Xhosa, several of them patting me on the back. I have not felt that much unity between people in a very, very long time!
The taxi was ready to go and we didn’t have more time to talk. Throughout the ride I could see him looking at me from time to time. When I got out I greeted him with “Ndiyabulela! Hamba Kakuhle!” (thank you, go well!)
Chippa put his hand on my shoulder, tears glistening in his eyes “Thank you Momma!”
We have a lot to learn yet in South Africa. Small acts can forge friendships. Reach out to the people you see daily. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone wants to be heard.
There is hope for South Africa yet!