December, 2007 browsing by month


Learning Kiswahili

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

There is an old joke told in Tanzania: Swahili was born in Zanzibar, it grew up in Tanzania, became sick in Kenya and died in Uganda. Julius has taught me that even within Tanzania there is a pecking order as to who speaks Kiswahili the best.

When the Arabs came to the East African coast (almost 1000 years ago) they called the people they met the "Coastal People" or "Sahil". As time went on the word became Swahili. All the tribes along the coast at that time spoke a common language along with their tribal languages. This language became known as Kiswahili (the language of the coast).

As time went on and more foreigners showed up, the language adopted words from Arabic, Portugese, German and English. On the islands of Zanzibar, Kiswahili became the main language for the Africans who were brought there as slaves by the Arabs. Hundreds of years later it is still the only language spoken on the islands. Up to today, Zanzibar's Kiswahili is still seen as the purest in the country, followed by the coast, then the rest of the mainland. Julius grew up in Tanga, a small city on the coast and he gets compliments from other Tanzanians here for his "good Kiswahili".

  I (Sara) have been dabbling with Kiswahili since I studied at the University in Dar es Salaam in 1996. Over the years I have bought loads of dictionaries, study guides, grammar guides, CD-Roms, CDs. I have everything at my disposal. Plus, my husband is fluent! I should be fluent at this point too. When a trip to Tanzania is coming up I cram like crazy, but once home my skills start to fade.

I once asked Uncle Phil how he got so fluent in Spanish (he is a priest for a parish with a huge Hispanic community). He said that he made the decision in seminary to study Spanish for an hour a day. It was so simple and made so much sense! If I studied Kiswahili for an hour a day, think of the progress I would make. I am making a challenge to myself to do just that. Hopefully I can blog about what I am learning along the way, just to make the lessons stick. Kiswahili is not a hard language for an English speaker to learn. There are many rules but unlike English, they are not broken very often.

   Some better sites on Kiswahili and learning Kiswahili include:

Kamusi Project (Yale's enormous Kiswahili site including Dictionary)

Page of Links from Stanford's Kiswahili Department       

Kiswahili Flashcards from the fun Flashcard Exchange Website

Mwana Simba's Swahili Lessons

Swahili Language and Culture

Once you have a handle on the language you can visit Wikipedia in Kiswahili

Wish me luck!

You Tube Makes the World Seem Smaller

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

Like the rest of attention-hungry world we enjoy posting our videos on You Tube then waiting to see who watches them. The first thing that surprised me with You Tube is how many people post the same videos of the same things. Some of our videos I assumed would be really original ("Wait until they see this video of traffic in Vietnam!"). Once the video is uploaded, however, You Tube will show a list similar videos. We learned quickly that we were not the only people to be entranced by the organic system that is Vietnamese traffic. Hundreds of people have posted videos of Vietnam traffic and many better than ours. In fact, we spent a fun two hours looking at them.

It does make sense that Vietnamese traffic warrants a lot of videos. However, an old street musician in Brussels? He had five separate videos (at least) posted by tourists like us. Lace makers in Brugge, Belgium have dozens as does the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia, splashing fish at the Hong Kong Market and a guy who sings at the Rarotonga Airport in the Cook Islands.

When we do post a video that is original it is pretty exciting. For example, we are the only people to post videos of singing Tanzanian and Ugandan nuns.

Some of our videos have become popular (relatively speaking, of course) and have earned us a fair number of views and comments. Most of this attention is thanks to some nice person posting our video on a discussion board or on their own websites. Our most visited videos are the lace making ones we took in Belgium (which are featured on a website for lace makers) and the videos we took of an Italian Bagpipe player and a Hurdy Gurdy player on an outing with our cousin Maria and her father in Italy. These videos turned out great and are very topic specific so they are posted on a lot of bagpipe and hurdy gurdy sites.

Our whole video collection is posted at

Our Most Popular Video (with 5,553 views so far) is this one of a lady making lace in Brugges, Belgium


Satsuma Oranges

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

Now that Christmas is getting closer, the Satsuma oranges have arrived in the produce section of all the supermarkets. Satsumas have to be one of the greatest fruits ever. We eat about two boxes a week during their short season. Last December when we were in Brijesta, a small fishing village on the Croatian coast where my great-grandparents were from, satsuma harvest was in full swing. We were told to eat as much as we could. Between us we probably polished of 40 a day. It turns out that this part of Croatia grows the satsumas for most of Europe. Along with satsumas we ate a lot of olive oil and mussels, their other main crops. Other than eating we visited with family and enjoyed the amazing views.


Brijesta Sunset