I cracked up this morning when I heard on the news that San Diego Zoo’s “Wild Animal Park” is going to change its name to the San Diego Zoo “Safari Park.” It’s hilarious to me because in Swahili a “safari” is a journey — sure, driving around looking at animals is technically a journey, but really any old road trip qualifies (even if there are no lions). Hopefully they left all the annoying guys handing out safari pamphlets back in Nairobi!

I don’t know when the word “safari” entered the American lexicon, but the Beach Boys definitely went on a Surfin’ Safari in 1962. Americans are apparently good at integrating words from other languages into English, though. Off the top of my head, we have kindergarten from the Germans and smörgåsbord from the Swedes, and hakuna matata! You did know that’s Swahili too, right?

On a semi-related note, I just went on a surfin’ safari in Pacific Beach. The water was freezing and the waves were small and blown out, but I managed to get twenty minutes of good body surfing in before my body was numb and I was tired of floating around out there. I had to take a walk down the boardwalk to warm up afterwards. Brrr!


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.

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