I only speak Dholuo to Kendi. Martin’s family only speak to her in Kikuyu.
She is half me and half Martin, whose mother is from Trinidad and father is from Gatundu. People overhear us; doctors at the clinic, supermarket staff, work colleagues, everyone. I almost always get one of two responses- ‘You’re teaching her Luo?’ and ‘She understands Luo?’
These questions confuse me. I am not naive enough to not know that people prefer to speak only English to their children, but the surprise I get always baffles me. I have become a professional with my answers. I say in answer to the second question, ‘there are parents who only speak one language right? Be it Maa from Samburu or Chinese, but they only speak that one language. Are you suggesting they learn English so as to speak it to their children? Their children understand them. It’s the only language they’ll ever hear. Yes she understands me’ I finish with great satisfaction at my wonderful analogy. It always makes people stop and think.
The first question baffles me even more. I am not teaching her Luo, I am speaking to my child in Dholuo. When parents speak to their children in a certain language, their children learn that language. They don’t necessarily teach it to them, they just need to communicate. Unfortunately many parents feel that their child should speak English as a first language, even when that language is not their native tongue.
It makes me sad. I pray that in my speaking to Kendi in Dholuo, in the questions people have when they overhear us, in the answers I give, people will change their thinking and gift (because it is a gift that I am able to speak 3 languages fluently) their children with their mother tongue.