A letter fragment from Jos
a letter fragment from Jos

8-22-96, Washington D.C.

Allow me to pass on an interesting story. Walking into my apartment the other day, our doorman, James ("No, James, hold my calls tonight, I'll be staying in") asked me if I spoke French. My answer, quick on the lips should be obvious to you,
He said this in French. It is about the only thing he knew how to say in French.

"Hey, I'm not a racist, but I hate the French."
If you wouldn't consider it immodest, my accent was perfect.

James, hearing my immortally flawless command of the Frog tongue, then turns me to a young African boy by his side, looking somewhat confused. (All right, an old African boy, at age 13.) Nevertheless, he is from the Ivory Coast. He speaks little English. I try to explain that my prejudice is not against French speakers, per se but rather those who live in France. As an African, I bear him no ill will. He seems confused, but keep on slapping him on the back 'till he smiles. See, I always knew my future was in diplomacy.

So... today, several days later, I run into him again, hanging out with James in the lobby. James explains that Freddy has been in the U.S. 4 days now, and only seen the sixth floor of the building. I was headed out to Catholic University and offered to take him with me; first asking James if he was religious.

"Of course! He speaks French! They're always killing each other over something over there."

Helpful as always. So I took him to the National Air and Space Museum. Tops on his list were aircraft carriers, Skylab and Missiles. The word for missiles, apparently, is similar in our languages. We had several conversations like the following:

"Ooh, missiles!"

"Yes, missiles"


And to think that people imply that the races have nothing in common.

And then we bought popsicles and went to see the White House. It was still there. I mention this because in our walk along Constitution Ave., I learned that most of the popsicle vendors were from Sierra Leone. I take special pride in the fact that, as an American, I realized that both Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire were African countries rather than vegetarian entrees, I learned about the Leonese descent of the fellow selling me my lemon bomb pop when I asked:

"Excuse me, do you speak French?"

"No, my country was colonized by English speakers."

"Really? Mine too."

So, a day of cultural exchange was had by all.

Love, Jos