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.

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