làkk: to speak a language

After wandering around looking for the kaar-rapide (local bus) to take us home, suma xarit (my friend) Will and I are totally lost. Finally, we approach the lady selling peanuts outside of Marché Sandaga. She looks up at us, stony-faced at these two foreigners.

Asalaam alaekum, we say.

Malaekum salaam, she responds coldly.

Nangadef? we ask.

Mangiiy fii, she responds less coldly, now cautiously.

Ana waa ker ga? we ask.

And then we see it—the trace of a small smile playing around the corners of her mouth. Ñunga fa, she answers.

Where can we find the bus stop, I try to say in Wolof, but I stumble over the words. Arret… kaar-rapide? Fan…nga…nekk?

By this time now she is full-on smiling. Arret kaar-rapide! She grins. Fan la nekk? She says it again, spreading her hands wide and palms up to show that she is asking a question. Arret kaar-rapide, fan la nekk? She points to me and I understand—she is teaching me how to say, Where do I find the bus stop?

Arret kaar-rapide, fan la nekk? Will and I repeat in unison.

The woman smiles and points up the hill. Ci kow, she says. Up there.

Will and I thank her profusely. Jerejef! Jerejef lool!

Nyoko boko, she returns.

As Will and I walk away in the sunset, up the hill towards our bus, we marvel at what a difference language makes—how even our broken Wolof turned us from possibly hostile foreigners into welcomed travelers.


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