Kristoffer and I often talk about this "Kenyan English", as we call it, particularly because we often (I shudder, but it is true) catch ourselves saying some really bizarre things! Here are just a few classic examples:
- "Pick it (or you/him/her/me)" instead of "pick it up": "Charles will pick you at the main gate." or "Please pick the package and deliver it to..."
- Someone says hello to you and you respond, "Fine". Why? Because in Kiswahili you will say "Jambo, habari" which pretty much means "Hello, How are you?" and someone responds, "Mzuri", which basically means "fine". Kenyans translate this to English so if someone says "Hello", the "how are you" is assumed and they will respond "fine" even when you didn't actually ask. It took me at least 18 months to not be annoyed by this and I have since done it myself at least three times.
- The word "alight", which means to come down/settle/get off of/dismount. I have never heard an American use this word and have never actually heard a British person use it, but it must have been used a lot by British here during colonialism. Charles will often say to me when arriving somewhere, "Will you alight here or should I drop you somewhere else?"
- "Just the other day..." When a Kenyan says this phrase it could mean yesterday, last week, last month, 10 years ago, or before independence. Literally. Kristoffer had a conversation with a colleague during which he was talking about the early 80s when President Moi was in power and he actually said, "Just the other day, the president blah blah blah..." And, by the way, they don't say this in a nostalgic manner, such as "It seems like just the other day that Grace was a tiny baby." Once, Charles told me, "Just the other day we had a dog but it died and we didn't get a new one." And then I found out that was a few years ago!
- "Isn't it." Said more as a statement than a question. After everything. It seems to be used to verify that something is true or when you want someone to acknowledge/agree, but it sounds horrible to a native English speaker's ears.
This meeting will be called to order. Isn't it.
I'm going to play squash this evening. Isn't it.
Grace doesn't like to sleep in the morning. Isn't it.
We should think about where we want to go for lunch. Isn't it.
I hate when I catch myself speaking Kenyan English. Isn't it.
The thing I wonder about most is will these "Kenyan English"-isms stay with us when we don't live here anymore?! Maybe "just the other day" will sneak up on me every now or I will occasionally drop an "Isn't it". In the same way I sometimes say "papah" instead of "paper" and am reminded of growing up outside of Boston and with my mother's strong accent, it will be proof to the world and to myself that indeed I have lived here and I have known this place.