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As a Kenyan teacher, I appreciate ‘Kiingereza klilikuja na meli’

Today’s fun article contributor is Githinji Muriuki, a primary school teacher based in Mombasa. He narrates the funny ways in which Kenyan pupils express themselves.

Anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey is said to have literally translated Kikuyu’s reference to God, Mweene Nyaga to “the owner of the ostrich!”

This is notwithstanding the phrase was a reference to Murungu (God), extolling him as “the owner of the firmament”

But Dr Leakey, being a non-native speaker of Kikuyu language had most likely asked a local the meaning of the two words, albeit separately, Mweene and Nyaga, hence the hilarious translation.

I also remember coming across a joke on Facebook of a not-so-learned chap who reportedly congratulated a friend on an accomplishment, albeit by telling him:

“You’re the hippopotamus of them” a word-for-word translation of the Kiswahili congratulatory phrase: Wewe ni kiboko yao.

I guess every Kenyan has come across the saying: “Kiingereza kilikuja na meli” (Kiswahili arrived by ship), used to downplay ineptness in the queen’s language.

That said, I find it funny how we as Kenyans are inclined towards direct translations when speaking the queens language.

If a student walks into staff room to collect marked books, it is not far-fetched to hear a bespectacled Mr. Karisa raising his head from the book he is been marking to ask the boy; “You are who?” (Read, what is your name?)

No, no, no, my question is: Why did you go out without borrowing permission?” teacher Karisa is likely to ask another one pupil accused of not following prefect’s order.

But just how does one borrow permission?

I still recall how one day my high school principal called out on a boy who was carrying a black plastic bag by saying, “ you boy who is carrying a black pocket!

A direct translation for: wewe kijana uliyebeba mfuko mweusi.

As an untrained teacher before joining college, I remember hilarious moments from the young ones.

I still remember moments I’d ask a child to identify an anther (part of a flower) in a flower diagram on the board as I randomly pointed at the parts with a ruler.

Teacher, that one that one” (hiyo hiyo),” a pupil would say to mean I was pointing at the exact part.

I also remember the light moments as the kids struggled to express themselves in English:

Teacher, this one is feeling potato because I have defeated him,” a kid would accuse his colleague.

For slow learners, the child only meant that, his colleague is jealous of his performance, from Kiswahili’s “kusikia kiazi”

In my opinion, we should encourage growth of local versions of English in the mould of sheng, then maybe settle for the best.

But wabara are also a mess when it comes to speaking Kiswahili as captured in the old joke…

A story is told of a certain Wafula who was posted to teach in Mombasa. He had a brief discussion with a pupil who he had sent home for fees and their talk had gone on like this:

Teacher Wafula: Ulipoenda nyumbani ulimpatako nani?

Saidi: Mwalimu mimi si shoga!

Cover photo:Teacher Bonafice Kapian. Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ ARETE

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