MS TCDC, near Arusha

Hello all,

I look forward to hearing from you even if you don’t have the time to read these, BTW!

Here’s the promised update. After this, you’ll have a (welcome?!) respite for a while, as I will return to Dar and work, plus, either I’ll be settling down in a flat that I may or may not have… or then looking for one.

I wanted to talk about Kiswahili while I am still learning the language at this idyllic retreat. I better understand the pull of the scholastic/ monastic life of routine and study, order and quiet achievement, amid a beautiful, green, natural, setting, now. For one thing, here, someone else cooks and cleans for you and in fact you don’t have to do anything save study. (Tho. in my case I’m also hustling for that coveted flat in Dar but at least it’s a bit removed.)

OK lemme give you a little lesson. I know you’re simply dying for one. Greetings – Habari is news so you can do Habari gani – News? How are you? But you can also launch into a rapid fire rat a tat tat – Habari za kozi (news of the course) habarai za asuhubi (news of the morning) habari za watoto (news of children?) and so on and so forth. There’s also the saying karibu (welcome) every so often as well as asante sana (thank you very much). These endless greetings can certainly help you buy time, and you can employ part of your brain to formulate a halfway decent sentensi.

There are other redeeming features and one of them is that they have these cho chweet words like sentensi for sentence, pinki or pink, ofisi (yes office), etc. There are also other cute words like zungunza for conversation. To say you’re in/at some place you do this ni business again like soko – market – becomes sokoni, darasa, classroom becomes darasini.

I do have some help from Hindi and even Marathi. With that link from Hindi and possibly other North and North Western Indian languages to Urdu, spilling out over the Indian ocean and touching Arabian shores, we arrive in a many hued dhow, which has been picking up words and sounds all along, to East Africa. Our teachers are telling us insistently that this is essentially a Bantu language (and that itself is a family of languages) which has imbibed multiple influences. I can tell the Bantu and Arabic derived words apart almost 100 per cent of the time.

It’s Kiswahili (ki is a prefix for language so Eng. is Kiingereza) BTW not Swahili, which literally means of the coast. I recall reading somewhere that it dates back to the 6th century. To give some examples of the Indian influence (or vice versa too?!) embe is mango in Kiswahili (amba in Marathi, aam in Hindi) gari is car and its gadi in both those languages, swali is question in Ki, its sawaal in Hindi/Urdu, Kubali is to agree in Kiswahili and Ka-bool is the same in Hindi/Urdu.

There have been some interesting gaffes, and in our class of 4 (the 13 basic students are further split into smaller units) an Aussie guy called Steve tends to stumble across these words where a slight misspelling can get you ejected from polite company in no time at all! Poor Steve has so far led us to a word for “an insult to the mother “ ( as the dictionary coyly put it), a verb for washing the behind and genitals (man, how specific can ya get?!) and of course inevitably the F word.

Still you definitely need at least some light relief to keep going. We were absolutely hysterical the other day in the dinning room recounting our f—ups with Ki, particularly enjoying Maria’s plight. This is a Swedish woman, wife of an NGO type with 4 children. She had a maid with whom she attempted to communicate with in Ki. Now in Ki time day starts at 7 am so 7 am Eng. time is 1 (asubuhi, morning) Ki time and so on. So Maria was translating from Eng. to Ki time when she asked her maid to come at a particular time the next day but the maid was helpfully translating as well in the opp. direction! In fact they went around like this for a while switching back and forth till they thought they had reached an understanding and then the maid turned up at the wrong time (acc. to Maria anyhow!)

Our teachers here are splendid and called mwalimu singular walimu plural. This is a front end kinda language and not only are singular and plural manipulated this way but also verbs. The nouns are worse than the verbs as they are in 8-9 classes (living creatures, non-living objects, nouns which remain the same in sing. and plu., nouns for abstractions, nouns for place, etc) and each class has its own agreement rules for adjectives, pronouns, etc.

For e.g. if I want to say You (Wewe) are working hard today its Unafanya kazi leo. Leo is today but to deconstruct Unafunya kazi (no grammer after this I promise!) U stands for wewe so you can dispense with wewe, na is as they call it the tense market for the present tense and funya is the verb root of to do, and kazi is the noun for work. Got it? We now know 4 tenses – past, present, future and perfect.

To my mind this perfect tense should be gotten rid off from Kiingereza as well. Three tenses are plenty! After learning these people should get out and chill, drink bia baridi (beer cold) or something. The feature that could actually drive one to drink is something called the object prefix which they introduced today. (It was anticipated and it rolled in preceded by thunder and lightening!)

So in Kiingereza you’d say I will give this book to you, right? In Ki you say Nitakupa kitabi.huyu (the last two words are simply this book) but in the Ni (I) ta (future) pa (give) one has to cut and paste the subject infix – ku which stands for you.

But I can say that overall I have learnt a lot, and enjoyably. As for putting it into practice, I am taking baby steps. Let’s see how it unfolds in the future.

Let’s go on a safari now! Yeh!!

We visited Arusha National Park two weekends ago, and even though this is not one of the bigger parks, it was an absolutely fantastic experience.”You’ll see all the usual animals there,” said L, a Swedish course participant who lives in the bush. By that he meant three types of monkeys – including blue and colobus – warthogs, a deer species, giraffes, zebras, elephants, buffalo, lovely butterflies and birds, including a massive flock of pretty in pink flamingoes by a salt lake (Momela).

It’s the sheer abundance and easy accessibility of wildlife here which astounds and delights. “How many are there, how many?” this Spanish classmate D, who had come as well, kept exclaiming. Soon after entering the park in a four wheel drive (the roads are rough) whose top raised up, so we could stand up and look around, we came to a large plain where we saw giraffe (gifies), warthogs and zeberas (zebies). The warthog for those who know it, think of a bearded pig with a longer than usual snout!

I had found them really ugly when I had seen their pix in the guidebook, but they looked much better in the natural setting, specially with gifies in a sitting position planted among them, like so many lamp posts! The giraffes have these sweet traingular faces and walk quite gracefully. (Their brains are small compared to their bodies and the way their heart and some vital organs are placed in their necks they can’t bend down so they’re fine catching 15 minutes of sleep each day on their feet.

We saw the giraffes and zebras quite close up, like a few feet away at some point in our travels and there was usually one animal who would pose and preen for the camera! The zebras are a designer’s delight, their stripes are just so lovely (no two have exactly the same pattern they saw) and I kept thinking of them as horses who had pulled on tights! As for the giraffes, Val, a really fun black American gal from Atlanta Georgia speculated that they were perhaps related to llamas… (Probably not a scientific observation but I liked the idea.)

We were passing through the beautiful, tangled green forest (the tress themsleves leave you gasping so old and beautiful are many of them), having seen a crater basin with a swamp from a lokout point, and I was getting into a dreamy daze when someone shouted “tembo” and there was a herd of elephants crossing our path! The big tusker turned towards us in typical “threat display” warning us off his comrades, specially the young, and then they walked on.

Right away we realised that there were more elephants trying to cross so we backed a little and 6-8 baby elephants (tres cute of course) walked by flapping their ears. A tusker led them and a female completed the parade. Huge though they were they disappeared fast into the bush with loud thrashing sounds and we fell back into out seats gasping. My heart was racing as if I had been running uphill a long distance!

The colobus monkeys are very attractive too, with white tails and black faces fringed with black trim and swing from tree to tree in packs. The blue monkeys (bluish –grey) were more reticent, but we did see quite a few of these as well.

We drove around the picturesque Momela lakes (we picnicked on their shores) where we saw salt on the foamy waves and on the shore as well. The salt is what attracts the flamingoes in droves. It was really wonderful to watch them through binocks and see them flying in a formation of four, in perfect symmetry. I have been wondering about salt lakes since then – how common are they? How do they form, etc? If anyone has this info., please send!

We saw the buffaloes on a plain, from a high point (the terrain was hilly) and they were still there when we descended. There were a large number and they did not look that different from their domesticated Indian cousins. Their skulls are quite spectacular with their big horns and are commonly displayed at hotels here.

We also had a chance to see the elusive Mount Meru summit, as well as the even more elusive, Mt. Kilimanjaro (Kili). Meru is a more sloping mountain and I for one really like its shape. There it stood, serenely wreathed in wisps of cloud, its summit bare. It had been playing hide and seek from around the training centre for 2 weeks. As for Kili I did not spot it at first as I was looking far to the right and not high enough! Duh! Above the clouds rose the peak with a bit of snow on it. Somehow poor Kili reminded me of a balding old man! He is losing his snow fast (global warming) spelling disaster for the coffee and other plantation in its foothills.