Learning an entirely new language is challenging, yes, but mostly just hilarious. Our teachers are so funny and patient with us. Kiswahili is nothing like any romance language. It’s a bunch of Arabic vocabulary built on a Bantu grammatical framework. Here are a few examples of our struggles:
The first day, we decided that we needed to know how to ask for the bathroom. “Unataka choo,” “Choo iko wapi?” I want the bathroom, where is the bathroom? Unfortunately we were also learning how to describe where we come from. When excusing myself to go to the bathroom, I said, “Unatoka choo.” Which means, “I’m from the bathroom.”
Eric, a boy in my Swahili class, has a bald spot on his head. We spent about 20 minutes discussing how to say “I protect my bald spot.” Our teacher, after finding out that Eric was Jewish, asked him if it was from the overuse of yarmulkes. And now we can say, “Unasemaje receding hairline?”
Today, we spent a significant period of time talking about alcoholism in Swahili. Now we can ask for a “pombe baridi,” cold beer, or we can call each other drunkards, which is always fun. Furthermore, we learned the verb for sleep – kulala – and the term “I would like” – ningependa. Of course, we immediately stuttered and stammered until we could say, “Ungependa kulala na mimi?” Would you like to sleep with me?
As Eric wrote, this is cultural exchange at its finest.
Some of the words sound so similar, and it’s hard not to get them mixed up. For example, you can ask “Asubuhi unapenda kula nini?” What do you like to eat for breakfast? Or you can ask “Asubuhi unapenda kula NAni?” which means, WHO do you like to eat for breakfast. The dangers are many.
In other news, I experienced my first Kenyan blackout last night. Apparently the power goes off about once a week at random. We ate dinner by lamplight, which was actually kind of nice. Thankfully, the power was back on in the morning so I could take a warm shower. I should count myself fortunate, though – two or three of my friends have to take bucket showers because they don’t have running water. Now that falls into the category of OIA – Only in Africa.
Here’s a picture of my homestay sis and me!
She loves my mzungu (white person) hair, so she spent a while braiding it last night.