12 Swahili words to know before traveling in East Africa
East Africa is a beautiful place to visit, or even live for a while. Knowing a little bit of Swahili before you go will endear the people toward you and start your trip off right.
First things first, learn your greetings:
Saying ‘Hello and Good Morning” are a must in East Africa. You would never start a conversation without a sufficient greeting.
Even when my friend found me screaming on my bed, trying to kill a huge spider, he first said “Kelly how are you? How was your trip to Tanga? Did you sleep well?”.
I answered all three questions before he would even start to talk about the spider.
Jambo – “Hello!” A friendly “Jambo” goes a long way.
Habari – Also “Hello / Good Morning.” Use this one when speaking with older people.
Nzuri – “Beautiful / Good / Nice / I am fine.”
Shikamo – Literally “I hold your feet.” This greeting is for your elders. Young children will often mutter Shikamo under their breath when you walk by. It may sound like “Sh…ooo”.
Marahaba - The reply to “Shikamo”. Literally translated to something like “ I am delighted, I don’t get that every day.”
Other useful phrases that will come in handy:
Asante – “Thank you!” You will use this word the most in your conversations.
Sana (very) Used as in Asante-sana- Thank you VERY much.
Pole- “I am sorry for your misfortune.” This applies to everything from getting chalk dust on your clothes, to tripping, dropping an item or sneezing.
Pole pole – “Slowly, slowly.” Everything is pole pole in Africa.
Chakula- “FOOD!” If you hear this word, walk towards the place you heard it.
Nydio / Hapana – “Yes and No” respectively. Some phrasebooks will tell you that hapana is rude. It is not. As long as you don’t say it forcefully, you are fine. I haven’t heard another word for ‘no’ since I have been here.
Hatari - “DANGER!!!!!” This could be a snake in the road or a warning about an endemic in the area. Take note and proceed with caution.
The three main websites I get up-to-date information from are the following. Make sure to check them regularly, as conditions change rapidly in East Africa.