Paula and I are now 5 weeks into our study of the Nyanja language and it is going very well. Though I’m not quite what you would call fluent yet (basically, I can talk like your average Zambian 2 year old), I do feel I am on the verge of a “breakthrough” (by which I mean a breakdown). Anyway, in the short span of a few weeks we have learned more greetings than any one language should legally have, not to mention a host of short phrases of questionable use such as, Sindili Mtengo – I am not a tree, and, Khasu ili mu nkokwe – The hoe is in the granary. But, nonetheless, armed with my new skills, I decided to try them out on a Zambian friend recently.
Me: Muli Bwanji (How are you?)
My Friend: Bwino Bwanj. (This totally threw me for a loop, as according to our text book, the proper response should be – ndili bwino, kaya inu? - which means “I am fine, and how are you?” His answer was roughly “Fine. You.” As you can imagine I was totally not ready for this and a bit angry at my friend for not talking the way he’s ‘sposed to).
Me: Uhhhmm….Uhhhmm…Uhhh…..Khasu ili mu nkokwe?! (see above).
So, we are wading our way through this language that has nine classes of nouns, each class with its own prefixes, infixes, suffixes and various other types of ixes that change according to the tense of the verb (and at times just out of spite for no apparent reason at all). If you want to say the word “there” you better know exactly where “there” is because the word for “there” is different depending on whether or not “there” is close to the speaker or close to the hearer or close to both speaker and hearer. Plus you find that there is no verb for “to have” and so in order to say “I have a headache” you say “I am feeling my head.”