Something that has intrigued me ever since my first day in Salone is the various sounds I hear people make. This, for most of the locals, is something so subtle that it’s more like second-nature behavior. But ‘through the eyes of U,’ it’s an attention-grabbing feature worth writing about.
The first things I noticed are the two main ways that people try to gain the attention of others. The first sound is a hissing sound (almost like a snake), “Ssss!” The second is when one puckers his/her lips and makes a tight, squeaking noise (like a kissing sound – I can’t even imagine how I would write this sound into a word). I’ve especially heard street vendors use these two sounds when trying to sell their goods.
These are sounds which I am not used to at all, so it’s taken me a long time to adjust to it.
Just yesterday morning, someone outside my hostel used BOTH sounds as I walked by him; he was simply trying get my attention to say “Good morning,” but I almost passed him by without acknowledging him.
People just don’t use these sounds in the states to try and gain other people’s attention. There’s a similar hissing sound, usually written as, “Psst.” This sound is used when you’re trying to quietly and discretely get someone’s attention, but I rarely ever hear it used anymore.
The most intriguing thing about these two sounds is the fact that they’re used in loud settings: In the streets while selling/buying goods, trying to catch a taxi, getting the attention of a bartender in a loud nightclub, and even in the chaotic city center. I would think that just shouting out “Hey you!” – which many people do anyway – is more effective than either the hissing or squeaking noise, but it’s almost as if Sierra Leoneans’ ears are trained with the capability of hearing these sounds in any setting.
Another couple of sounds which have become familiar to my ears are the use of the words, “Hey” and “Aha” in an everyday conversation. Whenever I hear my colleagues at Awoko have a lively conversation, these two words seem to be regularly repeated between them.
Sure, “Hey” is a common word and it’s not surprising to anyone to know that it’s repeated multiple times in a conversation. But there’s something very distinctive about the way my colleagues – and many other Sierra Leoneans, I’ve observed – use and pronounce the word, “Hey.” It’s a noticeably prolonged and emphasized “Hey,” which sounds more like, “Heeeyyyy.”
There’s an old American TV show called “Happy Days,” in which there is a character who pronounces, “Hey” in a similar way to greet people. Like I said earlier, this may not sound at all interesting to a common Sierra Leonean; but for me, these are the moments I sit back and observe my colleagues’ conversations with every bit of intrigue and curiosity.
The other word, “Aha,” is one I’ve found myself using in my own dialogue more and more. It’s used in the same way that it’s used in the states: When you discover something or when you are proved correct of something. But in terms of the frequency at which people say, “Aha,” there is no comparison: Sierra Leoneans must use this word ten times more than Americans.
From an everyday conversation to an interview with a family in Pujehun, I’ve heard people say “Aha!” all the time. So, naturally, I’ve started to use the word more and more in my own conversations.
I think it’s interesting whenever you start to pick up the mannerisms and habits of people with whom you spend a lot of time. I can remember my childhood days when I would unconsciously act and talk just like my older sister. I suppose this is a similar situation.
And then, of course, there are the speedy tongues of poda-poda apprentices, who are able to fire off, “Lumley! Lumley! Lumley!” or “Waterloo! Waterloo!” in the blink of an eye. That, to me, has become the most entertaining part of catching a poda-poda: Hearing the apprentices shouting from down the street as their destination rolls off their tongues like a rapid and continuous drum roll.
There are several other words and sounds which I haven’t discussed, but it just goes to show that the sounds of Salone have captivated me, just as much as the sights and tastes.
By Yu Nakayama