Kiswahili

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

There are positive singns in this world of ours.

Kiswahili

Any time we switch on the news, or pick up a newspaper these days, we see doom and gloom, fair enough there’s a lot of negative stuff going on and a few lies being told as well. But there’s something on the world stage that seems pretty positive and could well bring positive change. There’s been a move afoot for some time now, but it’s picking up speed to make the Swahili language the language for all of Africa. Your first lesson is to add ki in front of the word, signifying that the word following is a language… Swahili becomes Kiswahili, Kiingereza for English, Kihindi for Hindi or Kimarekani for American (English). A single language for Afrika will unite the continent. It doesn’t mean nationality will be lost, simply it will make it easier for the people of the continent to communicate, and likewise it will make it easier for the English, Indian and American and the rest of the world to communicate with Afrika.

I was helping young Upendo through school and with her lessons. At primary school, the teachers were not very good with English, so how could they teach their pupils well? Yet, straight into secondary school, they were immersed into English for every subject being taught – except Kiswahili. The compulsory subject was agriculture and when I read Upendo’s notes, I found them to be gibberish. What I found was the teacher didn’t have a good grasp of English so he made mistakes when he wrote the notes on the blackboard. The kids would never have understood if he just lectured. Of course there was always pressure to write the notes into their exercise books during class time, so between reading and writing the lesson down, more errors were made. So I translated her notes into Kiswahili to help her understand the subject.

My role in Tanzania, was to conduct environmental seminars and sometimes university bigwigs would chat afterwards… there was a university not far from where we lived. I’m no educator but on the other hand I’ve done my share of education, and I saw what was happening, so I discussed it with the bigwigs whenever I had the chance… Three English university graduates came the Upendo’s secondary school, to teach maths. I hosted them for the odd meal and they told me the standard of maths was too high for them at the school so they couldn’t teach the kids anything. I asked the bigwigs why the standard needed to be so high at secondary school level. I also questioned why English was the language of learning at secondary school and indeed at university, because kids struggle to graduate because they don’t understand English. They countered by saying English is used for commonality. Well that didn’t add up because all botanical and zoological names are in Latin, plus the medical stuff… What I tried to point out was that by using English as the learning language, the country is missing out on some very bright people who through no fault of their own, hadn’t had the opportunity to learn it - I've met many of them!

There’s yet another positive. Young Goldalyn Tanga, gave a very good Ted Talk on the subject, she has risen above the prejudice that so often comes because of her genetic makeup. People like her are often shunned and feared, so her performance on stage is remarkable in more ways than one. She singled out Tanzania, saying there are 120 tribes, each with their own language and customs, yet they are united by Kiswahili. Even kids will speak their own tribe’s language, a smattering of their neighbouring tribe’s, a little English and full-blown Kiswahili. There are six colonial languages still used Afrika, and while useful, they are languages of the past as far as Afrika is concerned, and those languages separate the countries, whereas Kiswahili would identify the whole of Afrika. Kiswahili is a made up language incorporating Bantu and a few other languages, Arabic and Hindi among them. It was made up to facilitate trade along the Swahili Coast, and the said trade included slavery, a dark part of Afrika’s history, but a part of history that shouldn’t be brushed aside.

Young Goldalyn is Kenyan and there are subtle differences to Tanzania in their use of Kiswahili, much like any language anywhere. The famous hakuna matata, everyone knows means no worries according to the song, but where we lived hamnashida is used meaning there’s no problem, both have the same meaning and both speakers understand the other without effort. Goldalyn also said Kiswahili is a beautiful language, which contrast to my initiation into the language, we were told it was a command language, and so it can be. In a restaurant, it is perfectly acceptable to say to the waiter, ‘Leta maji.’ Which means, ‘Bring water.’ And most do say just that. The use of please is quite limited, but on the other hand, you can be polite if you want to be. Tafadhali, please isn’t used often unless showing respect, so myself, I said, ‘Naomba maji.’ Which means literally, ‘I’m begging for water.’ Of course any waiter would know that I wasn’t actually begging, and perhaps that’s what a child might say, but I wasn’t about to command anybody. So the girl is right, it is a beautiful language and respectful too. I found it cuts both ways, show respect and you gain it… anywhere. I suppose it’s fair to say that men use command language because of the makeup of society, but I noticed younger men seemed to be changing slowly.

Already there are people all over the world learning Kiswahili, and I’m betting you will see more of it in movies and in song. So, if you want a mental lift, look on YouTube, type Jambo Bwana, look for the giraffe and sing along, you’ll pick it up no trouble at all. It’s a greeting and a welcome.  Karibuni.


Submitted: May 19, 2021

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