“It Came on a Boat”

I (re)learned a really important lesson a few days ago that I thought I should share as I am now trying to get back in the habit of writing. (Samahani for not writing lately!)

I was out with a friend, J, we went to Shoppers Plaza to pick up a board game (Battleship!) but I had to get some cash out first.

I usually don’t have trouble here with my card, there are two places I can’t get money out (NMB and sometimes EXIM) but I went to three different ATMs and none of them had any more money in them.

Yes, I realize this is a totally normal problem anywhere in the world, machines run out of cash. But for some reason I was particularly frustrated.

In the end we took a Bajaj down to the Mayfair Plaza, right down the street, about 3 minutes walking, except that it was pouring down rain, hence Bajaj.

When we arrived we walked to another ATM, there was one man at one ATM with two others available. I went to walk into the box and the security guard was rather rude and aggressive and said, “NO, THERE” pointing to the opposite side of a puddle about five metres away from the ATMs.

I raised my hands defensively and said, “Okay, no problem” rather in questionable shock and was pretty pissed that he was so rude. I had thought I was being rational stepping into the box when there were two open ATMs.

What I didn’t know was that the other machines were out of money…

When I stepped away to wait I was rather frustrated because the security guards language towards me and his action seems really harsh when he was providing a service* and actually being rather kind in trying not to waste my time.

(*Customer Service is a separate discussion)

When I turned to my friend, he said very simply, “It came on a boat”.

J was referring to the English language.

And it kind of hit me that I was in the wrong to be frustrated by how he spoke to me. The guard probably spoke very little English, and “No, There” was sufficient, although rude by my standards, it technically did the job and I waited.

I am positive that I sound rude most of the time when using KiSwahili, except for my thousand-plus Asante sanas, so why did I except him to speak any differently than what I am capable in KiSwahili?

Sometimes I forget that I am in a place where English is secondary. I know that sounds really bizarre, but I think I am accustomed to hearing Swahili and not really understanding that I don’t notice in the same way. I am also very often surrounded by English at the university and in the dorms and in my daily life here.

I can admit that I was in the wrong for being frustrated and I am trying to keep myself in check with remembering that “It came on a boat” because it is a really important thing to remember.

I am a foreigner here; and the language, just like me, was and is an import.