Monday, February 9, 2009

Portrait #66: Pole Pole: That's Peeeeeee..... Oooooo...... eLLLL...... Eee......

I learned three interesting things from the taxi driver who brought me into Nairobi from the airport:
1. Fuel (pronounced "foil") shortages are common here
2. roughly twenty words in Kiswahili
3. That patience and chill-ness are real virtues here

He couldn't have been older than twenty-two. He's born and bred in Nairobi, but recently moved out of his parents' place. He has loads of siblings and except for one married sister and another sibling or two, they still live at home. He personally thought it was time to strike it out on his own. They were driving him crazy. Plus, he wants to be ready for whenever he meets that special someone. He's only renting but hopes to buy eventually. Besides driving the taxi, he also has a used-clothing business. He sells clothing from all over the world, but mostly Europe. He hopes to make enough soon to, you know, meet that special someone.

He told me all this as we cruised up the highway from the airport into Nairobi, then circled the neighbourhood a bit more in search of a petrol station that had petrol. "No one has any foil! I've already been to five stations before I picked you," he said. "We need foil." I peeked at his gas gauge: below empty. I wasn't in a rush, so figured it was a chance for me to see a bit of the town, but I also figured a brief prayer wouldn't hurt either.

It was four gas stations later that we finally found our gas. I asked him why noone had any gas and he said he doesn't know, this happens sometimes. I later asked some other taxi drivers and local friends about that question, and no one could give me a really clear answer. The best, most detailed and confident-sounding, story entailed corruption and siphoning of fuel to re-sell it, leaving the country's oil reserves empty. Apparently, even though there are private petrol station companies, the oil supply is centralised, so there you go.

My taxi driver didn't have an answer at all for me, he just gave me a tour of gas stations as we sought out our foil.

Once that was taken care of and off his mind, he became very friendly. He was excited to know that this was my first time in Kenya and eager to make a good impression. I told him that I'd already learned about five words in Kiswahili, which greatly met with his approval. He decided I needed the tour of the town and that I needed to learn Swahili. And learn it right. He had me get out my notebook and start taking notes. Gari means car, so he said, "You say, Geeeeee (pause) Aaaaaaa (pause, by which time I had already written it out phonetically), ARrrrrrrr (pause), I." For the twenty minutes that remained of the drive, he taught me several more words, spelling each one out a couple of times, with as much precision as one could ever desire:
Kesho = tomorrow
Nakupenda = I love you (so I can say it to my mother, he informed me)
Nipe Maji = Give me water
Nataka Kujisaidia = Where's the wc?
Ni Rafiki Yangu = my friend
Pole Pole = Slowly, slowly

At this point, he took a break to pull over on the side of a road overlooking the city. We were on a hill, so there was a nice view of the Nairobi skyline, of which he was quite proud. Then he pointed to the park directly below us where there was a small amphitheatre. "And this is where Barack Obama spoke when he came to visit!" he informed me animatedly. It wasn't a very big ampitheatre, so I asked, "Really? How many people came?" His reply: "Oh, that was back when he was only a senator! NOW he wouldn't speak here. There's a much bigger park where he WILL speak." I asked him how he liked Obama. My taxi driver likes Obama very much, and is very proud of him.

Back to the vocabulary. Pole Pole was the central point of our lesson. It's apparently a phrase used frequently, to tell people to calm down, to be patient, to go slow. We have a similar phrase in Arabic (shway shway) so it worked for me, but he used the rest of his lesson to teach me other common phrases with the same theme:
Hakuna Matata = No problems/worries
Hakuna Haraka = There's no rush
Mambo ni Pole Pole = Calm down, that's the way things are (rough translation)
And some others that I didn't write down correctly.

He said that people often complain about the traffic in Nairobi, so these are the phrases that he uses in response to people's complaints. Sure, traffic's bad, but no worries!

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