Day 33: Kaswhili, Daladalas & the Dross of Cultural Quick Facts.

16 October, 2009 § Leave a comment

I had the good fortune of spending close to two and a half hours in a Borders bookstore several evenings ago, poring over a stack (yes – – a towering mountain) of literature, chugging coffee to my heart’s content and eventually rendez-vous-ing with Becky, a fellow recruiter from Taylor University.

PA162250Anyways, while I was there, I decided to indulge my curiosity regarding the luridly colored, graphic-strewn, quick-fact-ful, glossy paged tourist traps disguised as travel books. Historically I’ve tended to turn a snobbish shoulder towards that particular section of bookstores (thank you, Houghton intercultural studies department, for imbuing all of your alum with a superiority complex in the realm of cultural relevancy, grassroots knowledge and gatekeeper woo-dom…) but seeing as how a discourse on cultural immersion would be preaching to the choir in this corner of the building,  I thought – – why not?

The following includes some Snapple-esque facts I gleaned from the insides of several different books, as gloriously glossy and clean as promised, as purloined off  notes written on the back of recycled Seattle’s Best napkins. (Apropos, I know). It’ll be curious to see how practical reality lines up with promised experience in several weeks…

Kenya – – Globetrotter 2009 Edition (inc. fold-out travel map)

  • the entire country roughly equals the size of Texas
  • a significant portion of Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest freshwater lake after Lake Baikal in northern Russia , is found here
  • over 30% of the population adheres to membership with an Islamic sect; the remaining percentage is compromised of predominantly Christian denominational affiliation
  • the largest ethnic representation in Kenya is the Kikuyu with a population of over 6 million
  • close to 80% of the country’s population lives in an overwhelmingly rural area despite the rapid migration to urban centers
  • over half of the country’s entire population is under the age of 14
  • Nairobi (one of the major cities I’ll be visiting during my time in Africa) houses the UN’s regional headquarters
  • initial trade network settlement along the Indian Ocean by Arab and Persian peoples led to creation of Kiswahili, stemming from Arabic derivative of “sahel” or “coast” – – when integrated with coastal African-Arab peoples, culture and language known today as Swahili emerged
  • common dishes in Kenya include irio or mashed peas, potatoes & maize; nyama choma or roast meat; kuku or chicken; matoke or steamed bananas (sounds… promising?); and sukuma wiki, a dish of cooked spinach served with tomatoes and onions
  • handy Swahili phrases: jambo – hello!; habari – how are you?; mzuri – I’m well, thank you; asante – thank you; ndiyo – yes and hapana – no

Tanzania – – Lonely Planet 2009 Edition

  • over 5 million animals can be spotted in the Serengeti during migration season – – coincidentally, the largest mammalian immigration in the world
  • Dar es Salaam is East Africa’s largest city with a 10% annual growth rate; Swahili nickname for this city is Bongo or “clever”
  • the commonly shared mini-bus (otherwise known as daladalas) are color-coordinated by route (here’s to hoping for significant lack of color-blindness or things could get tricky real fast)
  • the country is still fairly new with its official history beginning in 1964 when the former Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged
  • over twice the size of California with a 3% annual growth rate, Tanzania is among the world’s poorest countries: the monthly average salary barely tops $50 US currency with over half of the total population living below the UN’s dollar-a-day poverty level line
  • malnutrition wreaks havoc here and at least 1 in every 7 children dies before reaching age five
  • testifying to a lingering colonial influence, the Tanzanian currency is the shilling – – or “Tsh”
  • story-time: although most Western travelers are familiar with the title mzungu, few know the origins of this label which stems from the Swahili term “zungua.” Translation? To go around, to turn, to wander, to travel and even to be tiresome. Even more humorously, however, is the fact that white people used to be referred to as iloridaa enjekat – – or those who confine their farts, thanks to the frequency of trousered apparel
  • popular dishes in this country include mtori, a sort of banana soup; andazi, sweet, puffy pastries usually eaten during breakfast; and the infamous ugali, a stiff, cornmeat porridge
  • handy catchphrases: marahaba – greetings; habari – what’s up?; kwaheri – good bye; hebu – excuse me; jina langu… – my name is…; and sawa – OK

Honestly, as much as I enjoyed expanding the boundaries of my very limited range of knowledge, it didn’t take long before I softly closed the bright pages with their quick, easy, emotionless facts. Let’s be honest, when it comes down to it, I would much rather interpose a name, a face and a story of a newfound friend in the place of those cold statistics. I would rather associate a genuine memory of humorous failure as I attempt to wrap my tongue around strange syllables when it comes to Swahili phrases. And ultimately I would much rather learn from the country itself with its wild terrain and vibrant people and richly convoluted history than from a series of clinical numbers and words gleaned from one brief travel book chapter – – an outlook on the African perspective penned by no other than a dyed-in-the-wool Texan.


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