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.

The Stars That Connect Us

NS blueberries

My childhood friend Lila started all this Africa business.  I didn’t know I cared about addressing poverty until I started receiving her group emails from Botswana.  This weekend, I’m going to stay at Lila’s mother Barbara’s place in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, while I take a motorcycle course, preparing me to travel by pikipiki (motorbike) in rural Tanzania.

Yesterday, on my way to a party in honour of my departure, I stopped at Value Village to look for a leather jacket, key to my new life as a biker. I was trying on a sweet jacket, admiring myself in the mirror, when a fellow shopper told me it fit well.  Her comment encouraged me to buy that particular jacket ($13.99!!), and it’s currently under the bus in my bag.

As I sit on the bus to Antigonish, looking out over the still-muted fall foliage of my favourite place on earth, eating a delicious blueberry muffin baked by my best friend with locally-sourced ingredients, listening to Mumford & Sons in headphones borrowed from my sister, I feel acutely thankful to be this connected and supported.  That feeling is the reason I chose to accept the position in Tanzania.  On August 12th, only a little over a month ago, I was struggling with the decision.  A chance meeting with a wise friend (Yael) at a bike shop in Montreal quickly had us hashing the issue out over coffee.  Before parting, we lingered, tracing the connections that had led us to become acquainted.  I set out on my purple bicycle, Farmers’ Dairy milk crate on the back, only to stop two blocks later to answer my phone.  It was Christian, An Important  in the connections that Yael and I had just been chatting about.  Not one to call often, his reaching out was a happy opportunity for more input on my dilemma.

I don’t need to tell you the outcome of that day’s decision-making process.

At my going-away party last night, I got another reminder of how connected we all are.  Some old friends from school came by, including Joey who had brought his wife Sarah.  I was excited to finally meet her, but it turns out I already had.  She was the girl in Value Village.