Wednesday, 14 September 2016

No, I do not speak Swahili

although I know a few words. I can also say one complete sentence. I can't remember how I managed to learn it and I have no idea how I have retained it in my memory. That it would ever turn out to be useful - not once, but twice - I do not know.
Yesterday I was waiting for the train to come home at a station which usually has only a few passengers unless something is going on at the nearby showgrounds. There was a lengthy wait and a young man came along. He was looking hesitantly around him and then, seeing me sitting there, asked me even more hesitantly if this was where he would catch the train to B....? Yes, it was.
"You're from East Africa?" I asked.
He nodded and told me shyly that he had only just arrived and the only journeys he had previously done were in and out of the city. He came from Kenya.
He stood there looking awkward so I said, "If you speak Swahili, jambo - tafadhali kuketi cini." (Hello, please sit down.) He looked, as I suppose he well might, absolutely startled. I had to quickly explain that this was almost the limit of my Swahili. It didn't matter/ He sat down - something he would not have done without being invited to do so - and we chatted. He told me he had arrived here some months back to do some study. He was homesick. He hadn't heard a word of Swahili since he left home. "It's not difficult but I have found nobody speaks it."
No, it would be a rare and wonderful thing here. I know two people, former missionaries, who speak it  but the only other occasion on which I have heard it spoken was when an elderly woman fell in the city. We got her a chair and I had to use the same sentence to let her know that the chair was for her to sit on.
I told the young Kenyan about this and he smiled, "One day perhaps I will find her."
He might. Very few people here speak what is a rather lovely language - although, like Welsh, it mutates and you need to know the rules to use the dictionary easily. 
But I wondered at the extraordinary coincidence of being able to use that once sentence twice in my life - and use it in a meaningful way.
As I was getting ready to leave the train the young Kenyan helped me get the tricycle off and said one of the other few words I know and understand,
         "Asante" (Thankyou.) I told him the same.

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