13 – Why doesn’t he speak?

Ayah - kongwa2london.comI was a quiet baby, a quiet toddler and a quiet five-year-old.

Due to difficulties with my birth, my parents might have started to think I was damaged. One evening in frustration, my father shouted at me in Swahili to do something, so I promptly went and did it.

The family had moved to Dar es Salaam, my parents were both working and I had an ayah to look after me.  Due to my parents’ busy lifestyle, my upbringing was left to the ayah, she only spoke Swahili and so did I.

My mother gave up work to start a crèche and teach me English, this emphasized that old adage, ‘children should be seen and not heard’.

One side effect was that Swahili and English were both spoken within the family. When I finally arrived in the UK, many words I thought were English were in fact Swahili. This bilingual tradition carried on with a few phrases being understood by my own children.

At about the same time, my mother had decided to have me christened. The delay was due to a falling out with the church after the local priest made a pass at her. So, at the ripe old age of five, I walked to my own christening, I could have named myself and made a big splash.

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