Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to unintentionally offend, insult and surprise in Swahili: Lesson #3

Right, so the lessons continue and while I am progressing (most of my basic conversations are now completely in Swahili), we still have the occasion hiccup, like...

  • Further to proposing to people instead of explaining that I understand them, I recently learnt that I've also very possibly been telling them that I am in fact, drunk. "Nimeelewa", I understand. "Nimelewa", I am drunk. At least it explains why I've been making friends so easily with locals in our neighbourhood.
  • I quickly figured out that "sitaki" means "I don't want" something. Which is a line I find myself saying often to overzealous street vendors and market sellers. I don't want what you're shoving under my nose, thank you very much. But... I recently learnt that you're actually supposed to say that you "don't need it"... "ninahitaji", it's politer and more gentle rejection. Apparently the connotation for "sitaki" is a lot more direct, and more usually used on a night out when that sleazy guy at the bar won't leave you alone. Closer to, "you sexually repulse me and I cannot stand to be in your presence."
  • Meals are quite a mouthful in Swahili. Lunch is "chakula cha mchana" (food of the afternoon), and supper is "chakula cha usiku" (food of the night). But breakfast is "chai" (morning tea), not "chakula cha asubuhi" (food of the morning), as I presumed. Chakula cha asubuhi, it turns out means something quite different... Sex. Early morning sex. When I told my Swahili teacher the other day that I have breakfast-sex with my boyfriend every morning, I think she did well to keep a relatively straight face.  
So in short, I've either been inadvertently proposing, randomly telling people I am drunk, informing them of my sexual preference in the morning or (with a polite smile) telling them to fuck off. 

I think it says a lot for the friendly and hospitable nature of Tanzanians that I haven't received a more agressive response. Yet. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Good moaning

"Good moaning. I was pissing by the door, when I heard two shats. You are holding in your hound a smoking goon, you are clearly the guilty potty."

I've realised that this is what I must sound when I try to speak Swahili.... the Anglo-African equivalent of Officer Crabtree from 'Allo 'Allo.

Although there are only so many vowels sounds that can be made, and god bless them for not changing when two vowels sit next to each other ("ao" = "ah-oh", rather than creating a new pronunciation altogether... unlike the Germanic languages), the vowels often change depending on whether you're talking in positive or negative tense, or multiple or singular. And, as with most languages, some words are just one letter different from each other. A very important single letter.

Take for example, one of the very first words that I learnt: kuelewa = to understand. I also learnt sielewi  = I don't understand.

Then add to that, the word that I learnt just the other day: kuolewa = to marry.

And now, picture the confusion on street vendors' faces when,  instead of telling them that I want to understand, I was very possibly telling them that I want to marry.

Nataka kuelewa versus nataka kuolewa.

Since I learnt about about this new word, the often-bewildered expressions I've received in response make so much more sense. I also now know how to say, "I said the wrong word!"

Hapana, mimi nilisema neno makosa!

I think.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nataka kujifunza kiSwahili

I want to learn Swahili.

And I am trying, damnit... The housekeeping and security staff in our complex are most patient, if more often than not, bemused at my bumbling sentences. They happily acknowledge my attempts, once they understand what I'm trying to say, and correct me when I haven't structured it well enough.

We communicate (in the loosest possible definition) mostly about the time of day and the weather, scintillating topics by anyone's standards, but what gets me the most attention is when I say something that has a "j" in it. From what I gather, my pronunciation of this consonant is too hard for local ears... they say it softer, kind of a cross between a gentle "g" and soft "y" with a little "d" thrown in.

I simply cannot wrap my white mzungu tongue around it.

So today, when I told Helen "nataka kujifunza kiSwahili"... she took my intentions very literally and upgraded me to the advanced class. No lazy English tongue was allowed - I had to repeat and repeat the phrase until I got it right (which for the record, did not happen)

Me: nah-tah-kah koo-gee-foon-zah
Helen: No! goo-jdyee-foon-zah... sema tena! [Repeat!]
Me: goo-jayee-foo...
Helen: Haebo! Goo-jdyee... goo-jdyee... tena.
Me: Goo... jeeyah... foo. No. Goo-jeey... gooodjeh? Goonyee?

You know when you start saying something so many times over it loses all meaning? Now try when it didn't really have meaning in the first place. By this stage, my eyes felt like they were extruding with effort, my tongue was showing signs of repetitive strain injury and Helen was nearly doubled over in hysterics. And honest to god, I still could not hear the difference between what she was saying and what I was saying. 

She even snatched a pen and paper in exasperation, writing the word "kujifunza", putting a tick over the "ji", then pointing at me and writing "kungifunza" and writing a cross over the "ngi". Who would've thought that one letter would be so damn difficult to convey with clarity?

"Tutajaribu tena kesho", we'll try again tomorrow, Helen promised.

I thanked her for her efforts, calling her Bibi mwalimu (my translation for Mrs Teacher), which sent her chuckling out the door muttering, "mwalimu..." so at least I'm fairly certain the nickname didn't offend her too much.

Tutajaribu tena kesho. I can write it, just don't ask me to pronounce it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A drive through town

Last weekend, GBM and I went for a drive to Mlimani City, the large shopping mall about 10km away.  The drive, on a Saturday afternoon at lunch time, took us over 45 minutes and was the main adventure of the day. 

It seems that any time of day, any day of the week, traffic seldom moves more than 40kmph, between pedestrians, street vendors, daladalas (multi-person taxis), bajajs (three-wheel people carrying scooters), black-tinted taxi saloons, road-hogging 4x4s, there is no where to go in a hurry. 

The hairiest, but most interesting, part of the drive was the stretch down Bagamoyo Rd. It's three-lanes... furthest on each side is obviously for two directional traffic. However, the middle lane is less obvious. This rather seems to be a case of "he who holds his spot last, lasts." So at one stage, we were happily sitting on the outer of what we thought were two lanes going in our direction, when suddenly everyone was scrambling to feed into the outside lane, because.. oh... look... now the middle lane is for oncoming traffic. 

GBM said he was sticking to the outside lane and I (some might say, for once) was fully supportive of his decision. 

And then there are traffic lights, which aren't even a guide-line, they're just... there. If someone at the front of the queue stops on the red (or green), everyone else behind them stops. However, the flow of traffic at some intersections just seems to keep going and going and going, regardless of colour. It's not that the lights aren't working, they just aren't getting a say in the matter. Yet, other intersections seem to function according to global norms. But, similar to the middle lane of traffic, we have no frikken clue where or when. So every intersection must be treated like a game drive through a herd of elephants... assertive, with full awareness and absolute caution. 

The better part of an hour later, we found our way to the relative haven of Mr Price, Game and Shoprite, where delights such as YOU, Sports Illustrated and other gems can be purchased. If you don't mind reading them several months after publication. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

A few things

Okay, so GBM says I am being selective in my recounting of tales because I am choosing to not mention the amount of idiotic things that I have done in the last few days...


  • I went on a mini-rage because I couldn't find any cooking utensils (spatula, cooking spoon etc), on more than one occasion and got particularly irate when GBM didn't seem to show any concern. What I didn't know is that he thought my rampage was only a mock-rage, because... um... there is a full cooking set in the corner of our kitchen counter, complete with spagetti spork/strainer thing, spatula, straining spoon, soup spoon, the works. Which, for the better part of a week where I have been pretty much no where else outside of our one-bedroomed apartment, I completely failed to register. I swear I would've found them if they'd been hidden in one of our cupboards, rather than standing there... next to the cooker. 
  • When cleaning up this weekend, I took the bread board on to the balcony to distribute the crumbs to the birds. Instead of just brushing the crumbs over the edge, I chucked them with my usual enthusiasm. Unfortunately, in my exuberance, I threw the chopping board too. As I let go, I registered what I was doing. Fortunately, the fact that we're technically on the ground floor (and our "balcony" is elevated all of 1.5m), there wasn't too much damage I could do by flinging a board off the edge. Also fortunately, the security guard, who usually sits in the shade just below our flat, was not there. Otherwise my little lapse in concentration would've been more than a brain-spasmodical anecdote.
  • Speaking of brain spasms... when I go to the shops, I like to take a nice big handbag and use it to load up as many of my groceries as possible, to minimise the need for plastic bags, plus less bags to carry. So while standing at the till on Saturday, I started packing some of the smaller items into my bag... before they had been scanned.... in front of GBM, the teller and the shop manager. Not embarrassing at all. All I could was look sheepish - I can't even say I don't know what I was thinking... I know full well what I was thinking, a great big steaming pile of NOTHING. Completely vacuous.
  • My last and most embarrassing moment was inadvertently leaving a 1% tip at a restaurant. After a nice lunch out, GBM went to the loo while I paid and then sauntered off. When discussing how much the meal had cost, GBM quickly figured out that instead of 5000 as intended, I had left 500 Tsh for a 45000 Tsh meal. I was mortified. I had effectively tipped the poor bugger a grand total of R2,50 for a substantial meal and service. I made GBM turn around so I could go back and pay the rest, but since then I've not been left in charge of bills (for good reason). 
So there you have it. My list of brain farts and concentration seizures. For those who are thinking it (yes, I can read your collective mind), I categorically state that I am not up the duff. If anything my neurons are demyelinating from the heat, and social isolation. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Renting a car

You call, you ask what cars are available, you ask how much they cost, and then you go in to collect. It's a simple process, right?

So I called... I asked for 4x4 versus sedan quotes. 10USD difference, per day. I ask if both models are available, yes the saloon is a Toyota Cresta and the RAV4 both immediately available. I ask what time they open... 8am to 5pm daily... and conclude by asking if we can come in first thing tomorrow morning. 

Yes, ma'am. No problem. 
Hakuna matatata. We hear that a lot. 

I arrived at 8:30 the next morning. The lady I had spoken to the day before was not in yet, neither were many of her colleagues. In fact, they were rather surprised to see me. They were even more surprised when I asked for the RAV4. 

"But you booked the saloon yesterday. The RAV4 is no longer available."

Um, no... that is not the conversation I had. I asked for costs on both, ended the conversation on the RAV4 and asked if we can come in to collect tomorrow. There was no booking of either model. I understood that would happen today. 

"No problem, no problem. The RAV4 is not here. You can have the saloon until tomorrow."

And so it was that I ended up driving a window-tinted shit-heap which I came to fondly refer to as the Gaddafi-mobiel, because I felt like it belonged in an African dictatorial parade. Come to think of it... a very real possibility in this car's past life. 

Along with the dodgy mafia-style tinted windows which meant I couldn't see out the rear view mirror in broad daylight... the boot didn't close properly; the bumper looked like it had been affixed with putty; the driver's window rolled down, but not up again; the wheels were only straight when the steering wheel was not (rather disconcerting); the speedometer didn't work; the accelerator stuck which meant you either couldn't push it down or you pushed it down HARD; and the driver's seat was stuck at the furthest position back, which meant I had to perch myself on the edge of the seat and lean forward in a classic granny-in-a-sunhat pose. 

In short, the Gaddafi-mobiel was frikken' awesome! It was so clapped-up and such a skedonk, that the security guards to our flat, who have come to know me quite well over the last week, were more than a little hesitant to allow my entry every time I rolled and spluttered into the driveway. 

True to the car company's word, our little RAV4 was available for collection this morning. And it is with rather a lot of relief that I am now driving Radi the Thunderer... whose windows, speedometer, accelerator, chair adjuster and aircon all work. Plus... no tinting, I can see out the back. Hoorah! 

Thursday, June 7, 2012


I got up early to go to gym with GBM the other day... we were up at 6am and I am still completely blown away (sometimes literally) as to how hot this place is. It never drops below 20 degrees, not even overnight. And this is supposedly winter.

Anywho, so we potter across to the gym in our apartment block - moderately equipped, with even less sufficient air-con, but being there first thing in the morning helps somewhat with the heat. GBM hops on a treadmill and gets going. I hop on an elliptical cross-trainer and...

... go nowhere.

I push a few buttons. Nothing. I move to the next one. Push to start, it lights up... I hop on, start treading... and *blip* it all goes off. I move to the last cross-trainer and true to form, it doesn't work.

I swear and curse a bit, as is my usual morning routine, and move to the nearest bike. Right, bum in seat - I can't adjust the height and my legs don't extend far enough to actually pedal. The bike next to it is apparently set for midgets and feeling like Goldilocks on the gym circuit, I give up on all things cyclical and head for the treadmills.

I plug in the one next to GBM, who's still enjoying his run and pretending not to hear the blue-steam exploding from my mouth. I switch it on. I press start. The monitor counts down... 3... 2 ... 1...

Nothing happens.

I reboot, try again. Try to take deep breaths, try to see what I have or haven't pressed which might be causing this complete inertia. Eventually I throw a complete hissy fit, stomp around to give the power switch on the third treadmill a good talking to about actually allowing me to get at least 30 minutes on a functioning apparatus, flick the power switch...

... and trip the building's electrical circuit. Which definitely got my long-suffering boyfriend's attention, and possibly a few other's too. Once the power was back on, GBM gallanting offered me the use of his treadmill (the only functioning one as far as I am aware), and I got a good solid 10minute run in before retiring to the pool for a good sulk.

As a matter of principle, I chose not to return to the gym the next morning, thinking that'd teach those bastard non-functioning appliances for messing with me.

But poor GBM didn't last long at his work out because the treadmill he chose apparently spat him off like a discarded watermelon pip. I was rather sorry to have missed it.