When I was preparing to come to Kenya in 2007 I bought a pocket guide to learn Swahili. I wasn’t too serious about practicing, but I do remember sitting on the beach a few times reading that book (I even made flash cards). I’ve gotten pretty good at Swahili over the last few years so I guess it wasn’t a complete waste of time, but there are a lot of phrases you learn when you’re first exposed to Swahili that aren’t really used much by Kenyans themselves.
Randi has taken to the streets of Nairobi with vigor. From the moment she arrived she showed prowess at navigating Nairobi’s busy streets, jumping out of moving matatus, and eating ugali (very thick corn flour porridge, a staple in Kenya) and vegetables with her hands. After we picked her up at the airport we stopped in town to get some pizzas. As we watched Randi weave in and out of traffic in front of us, one of my friends asked me if Randi had ever been to Africa before — she was surprised when I told her, “No!” In due time Randi will surely kuwa mjuaji (to be someone who knows… like to know the streets)!
I am realizing there is a problem with my Swahili: it’s too cool. Niko juu tu sana (literally: I’m just too high up). It’s probably something that most Kenyan youths experience when talking to parents, teachers, or other adults in their lives. When I was living in Tala my limited interactions with adults — like in the market — were usually conducted in English or Kikamba. Now that I’ve moved to Nairobi I am constantly around adults, and they know I understand Swahili so we use that to exchange friendly banter. Here are a list of phrases someone can inquire of you at various time of the day:
- Umeamkaje? (how did you wake up?)
- Habari yako? (how are you?)
- Mambo vipi? (how are your issues?)
- Niaje? (how is it?)
- Niambie (tell me)
- Sema (literally: “say” or “speak”)
- Sasa? (literally: “now”)