Karibu Tanzania!

If you plan to visit me in Tanzania – and you should – you need to learn only one phrase before you come. It’s like teaching Korean children to ride horses. All they say is “It’s okay! It’s okay! It’s okay!” until you want to scream (“my head is going to explode, it is NOT okay!!”). In Tanzania, all they say to foreigners is “Karibu Tanzania! Karibu Tanzania! [pronounced care-ee-bou]”. It means “Welcome to Tanzania”, and it’s stuck in my head like you wouldn’t believe. In response, you say “Asante sana” [ah-sahn-tay sah-nah], meaning thank you very much. So that’s what I need you all to learn:

Asante sana

I’m telling you this because we are currently doing a one-week crash course in Swahili, the national language in Tanzania. Myself and fourteen other new VSO Volunteers are trying to learn an entire language in one freakin week. Context: the Peace Corps Volunteers get three months. Therefore I plan to hunt down a PCV to teach me when I get to Kagera [kah-gay-rah] region. I would prefer to hire a local for my Swahili lessons, but the sad fact is, even a Tanzanian teacher in a local school will generally not be able to teach a mzungu [white person – mm-zoun-gou] their language. The school system is just too poor. School system aside, without specific training, it can be hard to teach someone your native tongue. I’m not entirely sure I could teach someone English grammar; I never really learned it!

Swahili is a language derived from Bantu (a native East African language), Arabic and English. Since it’s a newer language, the spelling is phonetic, meaning that each letter stands for one sound – unlike English. It is considered the uniting force of Tanzania, having brought all the tribes together and promoted a national identity. Swahili was made the official language by the first president, Nyeyre, after the country gained independence in 1961. He’s extremely respected and referred to as “the grandfather of the nation”. Swahili is spoken widely in East Africa: they say it was born in Tanzania, corrupted in Kenya, died in Uganda and buried in Rwanda. So I’m learning the “true” Swahili (I bet they’d tell me that in Uganda too). They say the same thing about Wolof in Gambia and Senegal: the Senegalese were convinced that the Gambians had mutilated their precious language.

Swahili sounds sort of like Italian, because all the borrowed English words get “i” stuck on the end. So other than Italian, it kinda sounds like baby talk. Some gems:

crazy = chizi [cheesy]
roundabout = kipilefiti [keepee-leftee](yup you got it, they drive on the left!)
fence = fenzi
stamp = stampu
brother = kaka
candy = pipi [peepee]
toilet paper = toileti paper [toilety paper]
okay, let’s move on = hi (extremely confusing when your language trainer keeps saying “hi!” in the middle of the lesson)
what is this? = hii ni nini [hee nee neenee] (please picture us running around yelling hii ni nini! and shaking different items in people’s faces…)

Soon I’ll start a list of Swahili terms that I’ve used on my blog and pronunciations.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy

     /  October 15, 2011

    Asante sana squashed banana…thank you Lion King. Miss and Love and LOVE reading this!

    Reply
  2. KALOLI DEOGRATIAS

     /  October 7, 2013

    Nice work but i would like to have such video how can i get it. Asante sana thank you very much put more effort on improving those projects.

    Reply

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