An introduction to the language of Eastern Africa

June 2, 2012

To remember what I should tell children to ask what their name is, I think of my grandma. Gina lako nani? where “gina” is “name”. So I think of my grandma Gina and the rest of the question comes to mind.

I took advantage of the long hours spent in the car during the safari to learn a bit of Swahili. It’s a beautiful language and apparently Tanzania is the best place in Eastern Africa to learn it. A guy told me that in a couple of months I would be able to talk. I doubt it. But in the meantime I’m learning what I can.

Some words have Arabic influence. For example fifty is hamsini, and in Arabic five is hmsa or something like this, if I’m not mistaken. Daughter is binti, like in Arabic. And they use Indian words, like chai for tea, or chapati for the round flat bread. Tanzania (and Eastern Africa) has always been a land of people meeting and exchanging goods (and slaves) and all these interactions have influenced the culture and the language. No need to say I love it.

It took me some time to understand how to say the time of the day, because Laurence couldn’t explain it to me and Emily said there is no logic in it, they are different and that is all. But no. There is a logic. And it’s not that difficult. They start to count at 6 am, the time when the day starts, until 6pm, the time when night time starts. When here it’s 7am for them it’s 1 of the day time, 8am is 2 and so on, until 6pm. Then it starts again, with the night time. 1 of the night, 2 of the night and so on. I like it. I need some time to think of what I have to say, because my watch has Greenwich time, so first I have to add 2 hours to get the local time, then take off 6 hours to have the time in Swahili. I know I should just take off 4 hours, but I can’t do it! Na saa tatu, it’s 9, time to go to bed! It’s actually 9.30 but I can’t rememer how to say that.