In my constant battle to learn French, farming is the latest challenge. In Fondjomékwet’s school garden, the language barrier between the students and me is a multi-layered issue. First and foremost, the students of Fondjomékwet communicate primarily with each other in their patois, or mother tongue, Nufi (pronounced fé fé). Despite encouragement to speak French from their teachers (many of whom do not speak Nufi themselves), it seems to be somewhat of a default.
It is also an incredibly powerful tool that most of us are familiar with from our own childhood days; when you want to say something that no one else understands, particularly an authority figure, you say it in code (hence why we all learned Pig Latin back in the day). It can be hard to command a group of students with whom you have difficulty communicating. While some of the students have started teaching us a couple words in Nufi, we have a long way to go.
Then there is a struggle that many of the words used in an agricultural setting aren’t “proper” French words. To prepare for work in the garden, I usually practice explaining the concept of the day- composting, organic fertilizers, etc.- in French. Much to my dismay, many of the words I find in a French-English dictionary aren’t used in common speech here. Once I tried to explain to the students about pesticides entering into the “plant’s tissues” and causing health problems. My translation of “plant tissues” was met with more than a couple of blank stares. Luckily, I’ve found a new, living breathing dictionary- the GIC Sondason employees, all well versed in the concepts of organic agriculture. They have been incredibly helpful in finding the best language and manner to explain the complicated concepts of organic agriculture to young students.
Navigating the language barrier has been difficult, but it’s a wonderful challenge at the same time. It gives me a sense of solidarity with the high school students; while I struggle with French and patois, they struggle equally with English. I try and act as a role model for our perpetually self-conscious high school students; the most important thing is to practice speaking the language and accept that you will make mistakes. Through trial, error, and a good sense of humor, I am learning to navigate both French and farming.Back to top