I am self-diagnosed chatterbox. As a child, my grandmother called me a good conversationalist, which fit well into my gene pool since her and my father are also “good conversationalists,” especially on the telephone. If I ever got in trouble in school, which wasn’t often, it was usually for talking. I even love to talk if when no one is listening. My brothers in the next room would scream across the sheetrock for me to stop talking so they could sleep as I practiced what I would say to Opera if she ever interviewed me. I’d like to say I out grew that habit, but I haven’t, although I have abandoned the Oprah bit.
When I was a teenager, I discovered that asking questions was away for me to ease into awkward social exchanges. When there was a lull in dialogue or I felt uneasy with the company, I could ask a question, engaging myself a bit but force the other person to direct the conversation. I started learning a lot about other people and became to love my role as the questioner.
It also seems natural that I chose a career center around talking and asking questions. Interacting with sources and listening to their stories is probably the element of journalism that keeps pulling me back when the others – long hours, crappy pay, moral compensation – drive me away. And it’s the part of the profession I am really good at it. I’ve been able to crack stone cold sources because of my questioning method and easy-going demeanor.
These habits spill over to my social life. On numerous occasions, I’ve been accused of interviewing a friend whose hobbies or profession intrigue me. I just like to ask questions, I claim. When I am not asking questions, I am talking. I can go on and on, my dear friends know, and thanks to technology, I can always be saying something, verbally or virtually.
Talking, whether asking questions or babbling, is my blanket of comfort. In Niger, that blanket is ripped away and all that is left is broken French and a handful of Hausa words. Despite all the other cultural differences and adjustments, this has been the more difficult and frustrating for me. When the conversation dies out — and it often does, even more so than in America — I must ride out the silence or put together a phrase semi understandable, but with a deplete confidence I often chose the former. Often, time is passed with staring and hand gestures. Other times, my head spins with unanswered questions because I can’t figure out the French equivalent in a relative time frame or lack the courage to do so.
Today, I found out that I will need two more weeks of French in order to reach the target level of proficiency. Tears formed in my ducts as I accepted this information and the fact I’ll probably always struggle with language, Hausa or French, for the next two years. And that I’ll never have the same conversation shield as I do in English.
But it will come. It just will. I am a talker, and in no matter what language and how simple, I will talk. It’s how I connect to the world, and I’ll do it till the day I no longer can.