Heteropolis, Adaptive Actions
I was asked to translate several pieces from this collection, three pieces, different authors, different voices, different translating puzzles to solve.
The shortest and most literary piece was a short parable illustrating how someone was being treated in the same way he had treated others. In French, it was titled L'Arroseur arrosé, which I decided to translate as "The Biter Bit." The context for the original French is the Cameroun region. One particular puzzle had to do with the word "waetizing," in French "waétiser," which, the author explains in a footnote, "is a common jargon word meaning “to speak like a white man.” The Cameroonian, of bilingual nationality, develops many anglicisms such as this one. Here, “speak like a white man” becomes, with an added French ending, “whi(te)-étiser.”
Quoi?! Tu veux ma photo ? Ou bien tu t'étonnes de t'être fait démasqué ! C'était facile, tu sais. Le Bamiléké est toujours mal habillé. On dirait un daltonien de la mode; pour lui, harmonie des couleurs ne veut rien dire. C'est de sa stature difforme qu'il signe son passage. Son ventre, rond comme une calebasse pleine de couscous, chante la gloire du kwashiorkor, et ses pieds rachitiques peinent à porter son corps adipeux. Le Bamiléké adore l'argent, cela se sait. Lorsqu'il est en présence des billets, ses yeux frétillent comme ceux d'un albinos et ses oreilles disparaissent. À l'affût, il jette des regards furtifs autour de lui comme si chaque recoin pouvait receler un voleur. Pourtant le voleur, c'est lui, Grand envahisseur et roi d'entourloupes qui s'approprie les biens d'autrui par la ruse. Le Bamiléké vendrait sa mère, ses femmes et ses enfants pour de l'argent, voilà pourquoi il est polygame. Vieux radin qui envoie sa progéniture s'instruire uniquement pour éviter qu'on le vole en retour. Et dire que les historiens nous trouvent un passé commun : Bantous ! Nous serions donc tous Bantous, vous Bamilékés et nous, nobles Dualas ? Pouah ! J'ai un doute !
—What? What are you staring at? Or are you surprised for having been unmasked? It's easy, you know. The Bamileke is always badly dressed. He's color-blind to what's in style; to him, harmony of colors means nothing. He signs his passage with his deformed stature. His stomach, round like a calabash gourd filled with couscous, sings the glory of kwashiorkor, and his rachitic feet labor to carry his adipose body. The Bamileke loves money, this is known. In the presence of bills, his eyes waggle like those of an albino and his ears disappear. On the alert, he casts surreptitious glances about him as if any corner could hide a thief. The thief, however, is him, Great invader and king of dirty tricks who cunningly appropriates others' assets. The Bamileke would sell his mother, his wives, and his children for money, this is why he is polygamous. Old scrooge who sends his progeny off to get educated only to avoid being robbed in return. And to say that historians find us a common history: Bantu! We would thus be all Bantus, you, Bamileke and us, dignified Dualas? Pfff! I have my doubts.