I’m feeling delightfully mischievous.I’ll play a game.
Every time you ask me to ‘come again’, I shall speak slower and louder, and make my best effort to exaggerate my accent. All those ‘t’s will be pronounced as t. And ‘r’? It will be rolled like chapati. Sometimes, I won’t pronounce it at all. What is an r in ‘water’? That’s right- nothing! It’s invisible! The o in God? It will be rounded. All those previous efforts back in Nairobi to fancy up my accent? They will be quickly forgotten. I will speak so heavily that you will know I am a Kalenjin, partly from Marakwet, and partly from Baringo. You will know that at age 9 I won some obscure public school competition because I pronounced the a in ‘ran’ like that in ‘ate’, and I’m content with living in denial. I will speak so articulately, that you will know we were instructed in English in Primary and High School.
By the end of the conversation, I’ll ensure that you know exactly that I am a foreigner. Born and raised in not-California, in not-America. A strange accent, but a brilliant mind.
Why won’t I change my accent? Because I met a friend last night, who I hadn’t seen since the end of International Student Orientation, and I was surprised I was speaking to the same person. Said person’s wonderful accent was gone. Because many people back at home associate accents with intelligence or level of education- the more ‘British-American’ your accent sounded, the better off you were. Teenagers who speak with a Kikuyu, or Luo, or Luhya accent are often ridiculed. Because for the longest time, I was part of the ‘many people’.
There have been several instances where I have felt a need to ‘improve’ on my Kenyan accent. But every time I pronounce water as ‘worar’, I feel like a sellout. The word is strange and bitter in my mouth, and when I spit it out, I am relieved that I don’t have to swallow it back. I’m thankful that I have not had a conversation where I have needed to say ‘warthog’, because I’m not sure if I can bring myself to not pronouncing it with a ‘th’, as in ‘thing'( the public school educated Kenyan in me will weep and gnash her teeth).
Of course, I know I am fighting a losing battle. At some point, my accent will change; if only so I don’t have to repeat myself every time I ask a question in class or order from a restaurant. Such is the reality of life in an American University.
But I’ll be damned if I go down without a fight.