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by Cherif Dahissa

My name is Cherif, and I was born and raised in Porto-Novo, BENIN in West Africa. Living in the United States is a big dream for most of the people who live outside of the U.S. For us, who have French as a primary language, we are exposed to the language barrier that we did not realize existed until we meet the real problem of language.

It was November 18, 2018, and I landed at Richmond International Airport after successfully passing immigration formalities at CHICAGO Airport, giving answers to some questions to the immigration service to officially validate my entry into the American Territory. “It’s been so far so good,” until I arrived at my destination (RICHMOND AIRPORT), where I had my first challenge explaining myself in English, which was a stressful and embarrassing moment that I am ready to forget.

What was happening that day was that by 7pm, my family and I were at the baggage check area and in the scanner one of the officers detected in our baggage a package containing fried meats. He was curious to know what kind of meat it was, because some meats are prohibited on U.S territory, so below is our conversation:

Officer: Good afternoon, what is in this package?

Me: It is the Meat

Officer: Well, what kind of meat is it?

Before answering this question, I had already started to struggle with myself to find the NOUN of the animal I got the meat from. At the same time, we were in the line of at least 20 people. So, a few minutes later I had to answer, and my response was very ridiculous and was:

Me: It is the meat of “BÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ” (I couldn’t think to say GOAT MEAT or LAMB MEAT)

Officer: Excuse me

Me: It is the meat of the animal who says << BÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊÊ>>

The officer was literally confused and lost by what I was saying, but fortunately there was a Spanish-speaking person behind me who understood what I was trying to explain and came to tell the officer that I wanted to say “LAMB MEAT.”

I was relieved that the lady came to help me, but it is a day that I will never forget because it was my first embarrassing and linguistic experience in the U.S. After that situation, I decided to go to school and my main goal is to learn English and improve my vocabulary and pronunciation.