Language Autobiography.

Annisa Ahmed.

    I fought the urge to walk away from the situation. Despite that flight would have been the easier and safer option, I chose against it, I would have to face her sooner or later. I made a mental note to kill Mina, my aunt, later. She knew about the conflict the two of us shared and had practically thrown me into it. She thought it would be a great way for us to ‘bond’ and become close to one another, but if only she knew the real reason behind it.
    My mom had left to work hours ago and Mina, deciding she had time to kill, crashed at our place until further notice. She then thought that it would be a swell idea if she cooked dinner for the household, herself included, of course. My aunt had asked me to go and ask my grandmother, Umi (as we all addressed her) what would she like to each. I cringed. My grandmother and I weren’t exactly on good terms; it’s not that I didn’t like her, it’s just that I couldn’t understand her. My grandmother was born in Ethiopia and spoke only the native languages that are spoken there. Oromo, a primary language, became the one she used the most and the one language the rest of her family spoke. When my mom and the rest of her siblings came to the United States, my grandmother soon followed. My aunts, uncles and mother all gradually learned how to speak English, while, my grandmother, however, decided she did not need to, that she would be better off without it.
    And that’s the problem. I was born here and learned English as my primary language. And though, the rest of family spoke Oromo fluently, I could never get a grasp on it. If people spoke to me in Oromo, I could completely understand them. It’s just when I’m trying to say, I can never put my words in the right order and it comes out sounding broken. That’s why I only speak English, except when I have to like when I have to ask something of my grandmother, like right know.
    “Mina,” I start. “Ali is upstairs. Why don’t you tell him to do it?”
    She pouts playfully. “But, he’s sleeping and it will only take a sec.”
    I turn and start my journey to my Umi’s room. My legs feel like bricks and my stomach is filled with butterflies. Maybe if I had try a different approach, or if I had try a little harder, I won’t be stuck in this constant cycle that happens every single day. Even though the two of us have lived in the same household for a long as I can remember, I can’t truthfully say I have ever cared for that woman. And, despite that the fact that we are family, the language barrier that we share keeps from getting any closer to one another. Because we speak different languages, we can never hold a conversation that doesn’t revolve around ‘did your mother come home’ or ‘what’s for dinner.’ Our relationship isn’t strong, our speech isn’t meaningful and our true feelings about one another stay unreadable.
    I felt like jelly, standing outside of her room. My head and the rest of my body lay against the door for support, to keep me standing. My heart beat at least five times faster and my mind just went black. I always fell like this when I have to hold a conversation with Umi. I try to make sense of the moment and I try to to make everything seem alright. But, I just can’t. My inability to speak Oromo has kept from others, like her, to understand me. I wanted to learn, to understand, to relate, to become closer to her, but I couldn’t.
    I sighed; time to get this over with. Hand met door and slowly but surely, confusion and despair inched closer. I let the light engulf me for a second until my eyesight adjusted. She sitting there, in her love seat, engrossed in a book. The squeak of the door was imitate and she looked up, acknowledging my presence. I gulped.
    “Umi,” I whisper.
    I took a deep breath. “Mal ati nifata.”
Her stare was blank, but her expression practically yelled confusion. I tried again.
    “Mal ati nifata.”
Her frown was more distinct now and her withered eyes looked at me with complete questioning.
I wanted to say the English translation - What would you like? - but, I knew she would be even more lost than she already was.
    Shaking my head, I said, “Huma.” Or never mind.
    I slowly began to close the door, I had made a fool of myself once again.
    I murmured, “Hai.”
    “Mal atin nifata.”
    I gaped for a second, but then I regained my posture. I shook my head and laughed. “Hai, Umi.”
    Instead of becoming a way for people to interact, language keep from getting close together. However, my grandmother, in particular, understood what I was going through and was kind enough to help me to become more fluent in Oromo. Due to the fact that I could not speak the language correctly, my grandmother as well as the rest of my family members helped through and brought me on the brink becoming a person that I would be afraid to be. Language can become a barrier, a wall, the end for some people, but for me, it became just another checkpoint. It became something I could grow from and become better at. It just became another obstacle for me to overcome, language became something I am proud to speak.