Haraka haraka haina barake.
Hurrying brings no blessings.
September 4, 2009
Today’s swahili classes were once again both informative and entertaining. Our teachers are very big Obama fans and we spent a great deal of time today learning how to correctly say “Nydio tunaweza!”. If you haven’t guessed already, that would be kiswahili for “Yes we can!” We also learned the important distinction between telling our host parents they are “wazee” (old = a great compliment in East African cultures as it implies great wisdom) and telling them they are “wezi” (thieves = not a compliment in any culture that I can think of). In this similar vein we were told to always remember that at breakfast time we are to say “Ninapenda kunywa chai” (I like to drink tea), rather than “Ninapenda kunya chai” (I like to shit [in] tea). The differences in pronunciation and intonation are so slight that I am sure to call my mama a thief at least once and probably will say quite often that I like to shit in tea, orange juice and passion but not in milk or coffee.
I would like to pretend that I could just avoid such troublesome phrases entirely, but when your tongue is as uncooperative as mine in wrapping itself around swahili sounds, just about any phrase is full of possibilities for embarrassment. We are also learning the perils of relying on a dictionary for translation as at one point in class today Anton tried to describe something as dumb/stupid (mjinga), but the dictionary provided him with the word dumb/incapable of speech (bubu). Our instructor was sure puzzled by that for a few minutes.
For lunch today, a big group of us (both Rachels, Zach, Anton, Devin, Natalie, Peggy, Alex, Meryl and I) all went to Steveo’s little restaurant kiosk area not far from the Guest House. The walls of his tiny shop were lined with plastic table cloths, plastic with pictures of fruits on it, an oil painting that looked like someone’s mixed media school project and a distressing life sized portrait of a little mzungu (white person) girl with an outstretched hand who was wearing an expression that was either a) cranky, b) constipated or c) really thirsty. The jury is still out on that one.
For the incredibly low price of 525 Ksh (less than $8 US) we all feasted on chapati (the East African answer to the tortilla), lentils + cabbage + lots of yummy garlic, beans + cabbage and rice. I think we shared about 4 spoons between us. Except for Zach, who having been a boy scout and all, apparently really is always prepared and produced an almost alarmingly large red spork from his pocket with which to attack his portion of the lunch. The shop owner and all of the other guys eating there were so nice, letting us crowd into the small and overfilled benches with them and explaning in both Kiswahili and english what each dish was made of, over and over again as we begged them “Tena! Polepole” (again! Slower!). We were all in good spirits leaving the shop and were waving and saying “Jambo!” to everyone who passed by, though Zach might have alarmed some of the people as he hadn’t put the large red spork in his pocket and was inadvertently brandishing it at those we passed anytime he attempted to wave.
After our late afternoon history lecture, I walked with a group of girls to one of the Nakumatts (Kenya’s largest grocery/department store). The walk was great and took me in a direction I hadn’t gone much before, but the store was a bit overwhelming. It felt like a small city. Do you need fruits and veggies? Go to the Nakumatt. A cell phone? The Nakumatt. Clocks? The Nakumatt. School supplies? Magazines? Clothes? Computers? Candies? Medicines? Meat? Yep, you guessed it go to the Nakumatt.
I didn’t buy anything too exciting, just a couple of new notebooks and some gum, but Rachel (not my roommate Rachel, the other Rachel) and I had a great time waiting in line trying to speak swahili with people. The guy in front of us was super nice, even trying to insist that we cut in front of him because we had just a few things and he had been grocery shopping. We were very happy we were able to tell him “Haraka haraka haina baraka” which was a proverb we learned in class this morning which means “Hurrying brings no blessing.” He smiled at us and started talking to us nice and slowly in swahili. Even the grocery bagger was really nice and asked us in Swahili about what country and state we had come from and if we were in Kenya as students or tourists and I think we managed to answer almost understandably in Swahili.
A couple of girls bought cell phones and I am considering doing the same. They are pretty cheap (~ 28 US $) and with just the addition of a new SIM card, it would also work well for any european travel I might want to do in upcoming years (oops…maybe I shouldn’t let mom and dad know I’m having that thought…). And I would LOVE to be able to call home and talk to my family and friends, my mom especially. But in a way I feel like buying a cell phone is cheating somehow. So we’ll see. I’m going to wait until mid next week and if I’m still feeling this way then I’ll probably break down and buy one, but if the feeling passes I will likely remain phoneless for the duration of my study abroad time.
I meet my host family tomorrow early in the afternoon and I am very nervous. I hope we like each other! I brought them saltwater taffy, chocolate covered berries, marionberry tea and playing cards with pictures of Portland on them as a way to give them a little piece of my home, so I hope they like at least one of those things!
Miss you all!
To all of you who have sent e-mails or posted comments, I really do appreciate them. Much as I’m enjoying it here, moments of severe homesickness are appearing to be inevitable. I might not get back to you right away as starting tomorrow, my internet access will be much more limited as I will be living with my host family and having to rely on internet cafes, but if you have time to drop me a line I really appreciate it and promise I will respond at some point.