Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Things you might find yourself saying if you've lived in Zambia awhile

The longer I've lived here, the more often I find myself saying things that I've picked up from my Zambian friends. With a little help from my friends and coworkers who have lived here with me, we've come up with this list of things you might find yourself saying if you've lived in Zambia awhile!

1. Bad manners. I say this one probably 20 times a day, minimum. It's like we'd say, "That's not very nice" to our kids in America when they've done something naughty.

2. Early bells. This phrase describes just how early of a start you'll have in the morning. If someone says we're going "early bells", they mean at the crack of dawn!

3. Nicely. This is easily the most used adverb around these parts. Play nicely. Sit nicely. Eat nicely. People always walk away from Zambia using this modifier!

4. Now now. In a world where timeliness holds little value, it's often hard to get a clear answer on just when you're going to be leaving, meeting someone, doing something, etc. If someone tells you, "We're leaving just now," that could mean anytime in the next hour or so. But if they say "now now", you know you're leaving momentarily.

5, Travel well. This is a common expression in Tonga (mweende kabotu), but it's used so often in English, too. Anytime someone starts off from a place, they are told to travel well.

6. How was the night? You'll hear this most mornings. It's just a common greeting to ask how people slept, and I think it's fun.

7. Filling station. Because we use the word fuel instead of gas here, we don't have "gas stations" but "filling stations".

8. I have tonsils. If you're sick because you're throat hurts, you would say, "I have tonsils." If one of the babies has an ear infection, an auntie would tell me, "She has ears."

9. I'm coming as you're walking out the door somewhere. As you leave a place, you say, "I'm coming." It's the same way in Tonga, and it doesn't make much sense to me. We're doing the opposite of coming, but the implication is that you'll come back again at some point.

10. Finished. I think in America we tend to say something is "gone" when it runs out, but here everything is "finished". The sugar is finished. The washing powder is finished. The charcoal is finished.

11. Body hotness. This is the expression used for fever. Totally literal!

12. It is paining. Nothing hurts here, but everything pains.

13. Looking smart. I think this one is actually British, but it just means you're looking sharp and put together.

14. Tropicals. Flip-flops.

15. Odi. This is the Tonga word for "knock", as in on a door, but it's also used if someone's not paying attention and you want to get their attention back again!

16. Two Hands. There isn't a word in Tonga for please, so the polite way to ask for something is to offer both your hands cupped. It's rude and offensive here to grab something with just one of your hands, so we teach the babies to receive everything with "two hands". 

17. Beautif. For some reason, there are a lot of words here that are just cut off mid-word. One of those is beautiful. If you call someone beautiful in English here, it would be shortened to "beautif".

18. Jers. In Zambia, a jacket or sweater is known as a jersey. Many words that have an "ee" sound at the end of them drop that sound for some reason, leaving words like "jers". So a common thing you'd hear around the Haven would be, "He needs to put on a jers before he goes outside."

19. Where do you stay? instead of where do you live? This question, oft received from Zambians if you are a guest here, always seems to throw people off at first.

20. Crisps are potato chips here.

21. Chips are french fries here. 

22. Queue is what is used here for a line formed for anything.

23. Mama/Daddy Many Zambians use these English words to call a child. Because most Tonga children would not call their mother and father those words in English but use the Tonga words instead, the words don't carry the same meaning to them. So we call all little girls mama and little boys daddy. It's quite endearing I think, but it sure confuses kids back home when I call them mama!

Ba Halale and I had such a good time talking about these things in Tonga class. You don't even realize how differently we use English words sometimes. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it's enough to explain to those of you back in America why some of these phrases are stuck like glue in my vocabulary now!

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