Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Bop the Snake
August 24, 2010 - By: - In: Language - Comments Off on Bop the Snake

Bop as in “bang.” You know, like to “nail.”  As in, “whack the gopher.” That’s what I mean. But in Hausa you say bop the snake.

My head hunter, Mike Klinger, used to be in the Peace Corp in Niger. (Just to be crystal clear, by head hunter, I mean Mike helps me to recruit people for 1-800-Translate. What he does in his own time is his own business, mostly, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Mike had been living in the sticks (“en brousse” ) in Guidan Roumji―a wide spot on Route N1 outside of Maradi in Niger―for the last two years with the Peace Corp. He was headed back Stateside, with a pile of gear stacked next to his table at a dusty teahouse, the only white face in the crowd, looking every inch the tourist, when a grubby looking character stood up and addressed the room. “Hey, watch me get some money from this white guy!” He headed over, and in his best version of pitiful French said to Mike, “Monsieur, can you give me a present?”

Mike gave him a smile, looked to the beggar’s audience and said in Hausa, “First you make an announcement of how you are going to get my money, and then you expect me to give it to you after that speech.”

Great timing, great delivery, the crowd loved it. The ‘Mai Kanti’ (shopkeeper) who was serving the tea, looked at Mike, smiled and said, “Maciji ya hidda rammi, ka buggan kai maciji” (“The snake popped out of its hole and you bopped it on the head”).

Cost of the tea, a few cents. Minibus from Guidan Roumji, a half buck. Turning the tables on a jackass, priceless.

That incident was a nice payoff for all of Mike’s long hours learning Hausa, and calling someone out when they assume you don’t understand what they are saying is a rare treat for the multilingualist.

But as an accomplished jackass myself, I know from personal experience that bilingualism can be a double-edged sword when it comes to linguistic faux pas.  Best practice is to speak in a language that everyone can understand. Just common politeness. Nowadays, the only time I speak Japanese in front of non-Japanese speakers is when I’m at some family function and I want to irritate my brothers. Believe me, it’s their just deserts.

OK, now back to the well with Mike and what he does on his own time.

Now 20 years later, I’m still in touch with friends from Guidan Roumji. We are doing a fundraiser African drum event to build several wells for the town.  Drought is a real threat there and drinking water is essential to the health of the villagers. For more details or to make a donation to Bokai Inc go to Mike’s site here.

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