The voters have spoken, and we’re pretty sure what they said is…
Posts tagged ‘swahili’
A day before leaving DC for Moldova D went to the Foreign Service Institute one last time in order to take his Swahili exam. Even if you know very little about our soon-to-be new home, you probably know enough to figure out that Swahili is not one of the commonly used languages in this part of the world. However, this was D’s only opportunity to gauge how well he had learned Swahili during our Nairobi tour and to document officially his newly acquired language skills.
Although Nairobi is undoubtedly East Africa’s prime metropolis, it offers surprisingly little of interest to the average visitor. We have a few favorite spots where we’ve taken most of our guests, such as the elephant orphanage and giraffe center, but our list of must-visit places is rather brief. It was therefore a bit of a challenge to come up with enough interesting activities to fill the three days we had in Nairobi before D’s family departed.
George Carlin used to joke that language always gives us away. We won’t get into his bigger-dick foreign policy theory, but he was pretty spot on in describing American English as a language of euphemisms. Ours is a language adept at masking reality, one that is filled with anodyne words that cloak harsh or uncomfortable truths. Language is a reflection of culture, so it should come as no surprise that a culture in which euphemisms thrive produces political leaders who brazenly lie to the public and offer noncommittal langauge (“that was not inteded to be a factual statement”) by way of apology when they are caught.
Perched on a sprawling 100-acre estate that straddles the equator, the Mount Kenya Safari Club is nothing short of picture-perfect. Its neatly landscaped gardens, gourmet dining, and plush accommodations offer an alluring contrast to the rugged mountain whose snow-fringed peak can be glimpsed in the early morning hours towering above the landscape. Originally the retreat of movie-star William Holden, the Club is at once one of the most luxurious and easily accessible hotels in Kenya, as it’s located less than a 3-hour drive from Nairobi along a road that is paved the whole way.
On her trip to the Mara with Niki, S met Chinese conservationist Zhuo Qiang, who recently hosted NBA star Yao Ming on his visit to Kenya. The two men have become united by their eagerness to show the world – particularly the Asian world – the devastation poaching has wreaked on dwindling populations of elephants and rhinos all over the African continent. Zhuo, who now goes by Simba (the Swahili word for lion), is an even-tempered man who left behind his government job, wife, and 8-year old daughter to dedicate himself to animal conservation. He has worked at 20 wildlife reserves in 12 countries throughout Africa over the course of 6 years before settling in the Maasai Mara to start his own conservation project.
Leafing through her guide book, Marni stumbled upon a description of the “eerie and hauntingly beautiful” ruins of Gede, which are hidden away in a strand of forest not too far from the beach house we had rented in Watamu. D also found a reference to the ruins in Bill Bryson’s African Diary, which he had coincidentally plucked from the well-stacked bookshelf at the house. Intrigued, we headed to Gede late one afternoon, as the ruins are rumored to be at their most striking when they are lit up by the descending sun.
Last weekend, D joined seven other would-be Swahili speakers of varying skill levels for a language immersion retreat, improbably held at a golf & country club near Lake Naivasha. Unlike in neighboring Tanzania, where the de facto official language is Swahili, language immersion in Kenya is difficult to achieve. Swahili is one of two offical languages in Kenya, but government business is pretty much exclusively conducted in English. In informal settings, on the other hand, Kenyans are much more likely to use their native tribal tongue than Swahili, especially if one leaves the metropolis and travels upcountry to more homogenously populated villages. Even when people speak Swahili – and they do quite often – they pepper it with words from other tribal languages and intersperse their speech with expressions borrowed from Sheng, the ever-shifting slang of Nairobi’s slums.