It’s 6:15pm in Nairobi. So it’s 11:15am in Toronto. I’m sitting at the (dining) room table in the living room of my apartment. Evening is yet to fall on Nairobi, and the sun is still peeking through the curtains. I like the way the light finds its way through the sliver between the curtains that I didn’t quite shut when I left the apartment for a coffee earlier. Today is September 12. I arrived in Nairobi on August 12. At 7:30pm. One month ago, one hour from now, my plane would touch the concrete at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. What’s in a month?
- New projects, new colleagues, new faces, new names. One staff member brought in a cake on Friday for Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Myself and another colleague walked around to the various work areas, handing out pieces of decadent delicious chocolate cake, with a side of work comradeship. “Karibu cake?” I would offer.
Getting to know (and be known in) the neighbourhood.
- My roommate and I buy our paper from Mr. Jones, who sells the Nation, the Standard, a variety of African and North American magazines at the roundabout by our place. As we approach he calls out, “The Canadians!” We shake hands, exchange greetings in Kiswahili about work and the morning, pay for our paper, and with a “Siku jema,” (Have a nice day) move along, usually humming the Aqua pop hit Dr. Jones.
- There are two vendors in the local market who we are on first name basis with. We always buy vegetables and eggs from one, and fruit from the other. They give us fair prices and we give them business.
- Walking in town the other day, I heard an unfamiliar voice call out, “Wanda! Wanda!” It took me a while to realize someone was speaking to me, not used to people knowing me in this new place. Was I back in Toronto? Ottawa? Where I normally randomly bump into people on the street? I turned to greet the voice. It was a guy I had met on a matatu the day before while going home to Westlands. We exchanged pleasantries, he was coming from Church, I was going to visit the Giraffe Centre, and continued on our ways.
Learning a new language.
- Jina langu ni Wanda. My name is Wanda.
- Karibu, kiti? Welcome, would you like a chair?
- Ugependa chai, kahawa, pombe, chakula, ama maziwa? Would you like tea, coffee, alcohol, food, or milk?
- Moto ama baridi? Hot or cold?
- Jina lako nani? What is your name?
- Habari za ________ ? yako/ ashabuhi/ mchana/ jioni/ usiku/ kazi/ weekindi/ nyumbani? What is ________ news? your/ this morning/ this day/ this evening/ tonight/ work/ weekend/ home?
- Unaishi wapi? Where do you live?
- Unatoka wapi? Where are you from?
- Ninaishi Westlands, lakini ninatoka Canada. I live in Westlands, but I come from Canada.
- Ninapenda Tusker baridi tafadhali. I would like a cold Tusker please.
- Nina jifunza Kiswahili. I am learning Kiswahili.
- Ripiti* Rudia pole pole tafadhali. Repeat slowly please.
- Ninapenda ku pika, ku lala, na cheza! I love to cook, sleep, and dance!
- Nilifika Nairobi meiza mimoja iliyopita.** I arrived in Nairobi one month ago.
* Checked the spelling. ** Looked up sentence.
We’ve labelled the furniture, utensils, fruits, and vegetables in our apartment. It’s a kindergarten classroom for Kiswahili 101.
New experiences in old shoes.
- I have a running route that is safe. The winner of the 1987 1500m World Championships and 1996 Olympian, Abdi Bile, showed it to me when we went for a run together. Click on Bile’s name to watch him racing or here to view his stats.
As I sit here sipping tea made with fresh ginger, my Kiswahili homework laid out infront of me, and gearing up for the work week, I can’t help but wonder: What will the next month bring?