Zito Madu on learning French

This is now the third time I’ve covered Zito Madu on one of my blogs (see his features on Playrface and Sampleface). Here, he discussed his year of learning French in 2020:

Marseille is a beautiful city, as most cities by the sea and with ancient architecture, large churches and cathedrals tend to be (not to mention Le Corbusier’s city within the city). It seems like a place built for pictures, and it’s no surprise that there is an infinite number of pictures of it online from the prescribed tourist vantage points. Being in the city, though, I still felt the urge to document what I saw and add to that ever-growing collection of images depicting the city from an outsider’s perspective. I walked from Saint Charles station to Old Port, across Le Panier, through Cite Radieuse, to the Velodrome stadium, and then to the Notre-Dame de la Garde, taking all the necessary photos along the way.

The city is also known for its crime—people who heard I was going there offered advice not just on where to visit, but where to avoid. I walked around for days and looked at all those spectacles and spots engineered for a tourist to be amazed at, but I also went to those places that I was told not to go. It wasn’t so much an act of rebellion or thrill-seeking—Marseille is a city of immigrants, proudly so, and I figured that the people in those shunned places were probably people like me, only separated by luck and the cruelty of Western borders. It felt incorrect to think of a city as beautiful without seeing the people who make it possible, those who are often hidden away from the bubble of tourism.

I was right. Walking through those narrow streets in my black tracksuit, I fit the image of many of the people there. The problem was that I couldn’t speak to anyone. So I declared that I would learn French, because I wanted to live there, and I wanted to be with those people, to talk to, learn from, help, and suffer with them.

A few weeks ago, I posted about the romance of language learning and while there is a connection of love between the two, this is less an affair and more a deeper humanitarian love. Although the learning journey didn’t turn out how he wanted, that aim and passion for Marseille still remain and I wish him good luck in the future.

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