San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia – A warm smile spreads across Juana’s face as she attempts to sell me a slice of Yucca cake, a sweetened pastry made with cassava, eggs and condensed milk. She and John Jairo, our tour guide, are talking to one another. Words roll off her tongue and her hands flail as I stare at the apron, in the colours of the Colombian flag, tied over her chequered gypsy skirt.
I listen closely to see if I can identify any of the words they use and match them to a language I am familiar with. It is a weird kind of guessing game I play with myself when I am in Lagos, Nigeria, but there I usually attempt to guess people’s ethnicities from the sounds and patterns of the languages they speak.
My attempts prove futile yet my ears tingle from her voice’s unsteady rhythm. I notice the absence of any double consonants or heavy sounds from certain Nigerian languages I would normally recognise.
Palenquero is a mix between African Bantu languages and European languages, John explains. It borrows from Spanish, English, French and Portuguese.
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