Last night I went over to Mamadou Bâ’s house to relax, talk literature and politics, and eat dinner. He invites me over at least once a month – a kind gesture that I am very grateful for. He and his family live with his brother’s family, and his youngest nephew, Patrice, is 4 years old. Patrice is fairly shy when it comes to interacting with toubabs (white people), so it has taken him nearly 8 months to work up the courage to sit next to me, respond to the questions I ask, and talk about the things that interest him. It’s not like he hides when I come over or anything – he is perfectly content to stare at me from across the room and jump in front of my camera when I want to take pictures. But he doesn’t talk to me other than saying “Bonjour.”
So last night I was pretty happy when he sat on the couch right next to me and started jabbering away. Then he grabbed Mamadou’s phone and started taking pictures of me, and then he wanted me to draw with him. Then he and I had a Wolof lesson – I’d point at something and talk about it in Wolof (if I knew the vocab for it), and he’d point at other things and tell me what they were. A neighbor lady came to pay Mamadou a visit during this time, and she started talking to me in English and after a while I spoke to her in Wolof. She asked about my family and I responded in Wolof. Patrice perked up at that… He pointed to my computer and wanted to see my pictures. This is what he said (in French):
“Lark, show me pictures of Harry Potter.”
“I don’t have any pictures of Harry Potter, Patrice.”
He furrowed his little brow and said in a very confused voice, “How can you not have pictures of him? He’s your brother!!!”
Trying not to laugh at the little guy, I looked over at Mamadou and asked good-naturedly, “What have you been telling him??”
Mamadou started laughing and said, “Yeah, after the first time you came over he asked lots of questions about you, and he had trouble saying your last name. I kept repeating ‘Porter, Porter…’ and he kept saying ‘Potter, Potter… like Harry Potter?’ It went on forever. So I finally said ‘Yes, he’s her brother.’ And unfortunately it stuck! And any time when he wanted to see you or when he wanted to know when you were coming over next he’d ask, ‘When is Harry Potter’s sister coming over??’ I don’t even try to explain it to him anymore…”
NO WONDER THE KID WOULDN’T COME NEAR ME!! He probably thought I’d whip my wand out and turn him into a toad… Poor boy!
It must be known that French speakers have often made this mistake. Porter is French for the verbs to wear and to carry – hence the reasons why the servants who carried French and English kings’ bags/belongings were called porters. But when saying the verb, one doesn’t emphasize the last ‘r.’ In order to pronounce my last name in French, one has to emphasize the ‘r’ and that pronunciation is quite close to how French speakers say ‘Potter.’ So for a 4 year-old, it’s quite natural to get the two mixed up. But even adults have problems differentiating it – when I introduced myself on my mission, grown adults would often respond with, “Oh, like Harry Potter!!” I got kind of sick of it (especially when my name tag was right in front of their face and they could see that the spelling was completely different), so the last couple of months of my mission I’d keep a straight face when someone said that and responded back with, “Yes, he’s my brother.” It was pretty funny to see their reaction – they seemed to forget that Harry Potter is very much a FICTIONAL character… they took it hook, line, and sinker!
Anyway, Patrice wasn’t paying attention to anything Mamadou was explaining to me, and he kept tapping my arm saying, “I want to see pictures of Harry Potter!” So I googled some pictures and his face brightened up immediately. “See!” he exclaimed, “You look just like him!”
What, dear reader? You’re kidding! You mean to tell me that you don’t see the family resemblance?? Obviously you’re not a 4 year-old…