Swahili Trials and Tribulations

Thursday, June 8, 2006 | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Falling coconuts (as if malaria wasn't enough to worry about already)
"The biggest difference between English and Swahili is the existence of 'noun classes.' Volunteers who have experience with Romance languages will already be familiar with masculine and feminine nouns. Swahili is similar, but instead of having two noun classes, Swahili has fifteen: ..."

Yep, fifteen—what a mess. The quote above comes from the introduction to our Swahili textbook, originally written for use by Peace Corps volunteers in East Africa. So cheery. We've had three days of class so far, and I've learned quite a lot, but at this stage putting a sentence together is still a trying ordeal. With three more weeks of intensive Swahili class (four hours per day) plus homework and practice with my host family, I expect to at least get over that hump.

Opportunities for practical application of Swahili are everywhere—although English is an official language of Tanzania, very few people speak it at anything near fluency. So though most know a
few words, beyond the first few seconds many conversations shift to Swahili—or would, if I could actually carry on a conversation. Soon though. Downtown yesterday afternoon I had a very encouraging bargaining session for a couple of t-shirts, and managed to avoid getting ripped off too badly. As in the Arab world, people are very surprised to hear anything beyond the simplest "hello" in their native language, and are usually instantly friendly and full of patience with those who try to move beyond jambo.

Thanks to Dar es Salaam's awful traffic it took Charlie and I about an hour and a half to get back to our house by a combination of buses, public transport vans (called dalla dallas) and walking—a trip that would at another time take around half an hour. Walking the last mile from the bus station to our home in the dark, we zigzagged, dodged and wove through the pungent mix of fish stalls, clothing kiosks, spice sellers and shoe vendors that overflow the highway's edge. Turning into our cratered road (which seemed more so as we tripped along in the darkness), we were greeted by the usual slow-paced charm of our neighborhood, Ubungo Kibango, with its tiny bakeries, bars and fruit sellers lining the one-lane road. And up the hill to home.

* * *

Tomorrow (Friday) morning at 6:00 AM our first "field trip" starts: Zanzibar. Though I had initially received the impression that our visit to the island off the coast of Dar would be a quick daytrip requiring further investigation later to truly do it justice, we'll be spending the entire weekend there. Our visit should take us on a fairly complete tour of the main sights: the streets of Stone Town, lined with their famous picturesque doors, the inland clove plantations and baobab forests overrun by monkeys, and the island's world-class beaches and offshore dive sites. A chance to speak Arabic will also be more than welcome. The ferry ride there and back is notorious. ("Even the locals yak," said our Georgetown faculty member here, right after telling us that we would not be taking the plane.)

Be back Monday, and will look to post an update soon after that. Local technological limitations are still frustrating my efforts to post pictures, but I'm working on it. Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

Holla die Waldfee Andrew,

it's nice to read your blog. And yes, photos from Dar es-Salaam and Zanzibar would be fantastic!
Instead of writing here I'll better send you an email soon, maybe with some images of what is going on in Germany as the worldcup starts today ;)
Tsch�wski, Turz

the pupster said...

hope your weekend was funnnn - did you see any elephants?? ha, nothing too new to report here, Dee and I are planning our trip to gtown before Hish leaves. Weather is really nice - 70s and sunny. We dont' even have the AC on, moms in heaven :)
miss you!!! love mags

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