Somewhat unsurprisingly, my peers and I are learning Swahili from a Korean teacher, who attends the University of Dar es Salaam for Ph.D. Naturally, the course material is in Korean and Swahili. Under the list of Swahili phrases we had to memorize, there was
Nenda zako, which in Korean is translated as
네 갈 길을 가라, which in English is translated as
Go your own way.
On Christmas Day, a couple of us were in a bakery, waiting for some people. For inexplicable reason, there were tons of children flooding in and out of the bakery. A handful of them took interest on the presence of us orients, and began to chat with us. It was indeed a pretty picture of international lovey dovey lets hold hands people of all color, until we ran out of Swahili vocabulary, and began to seriously share our ex-girlfriend stories. The stories were intense, dramatic, and entertaining, and the four of us were so absorbed, but the kids kept on interfering with intermittent questions about our name and age. We briefly paused the exciting stories to figure out a scheme to shoo these kids away. I was reminded of
Nenda zako, go your own way.
I thought, yes, this would be a pretty polite way to drive away the kids. The phrase “go your own way” sounds a lot like “okay, it was nice talking to you, so why don’t you do what you were doing before you met us, and we will do likewise.” In order to assure my politeness, I even decided to add “excuse me.” I faced the kids and said,
Samahani (excuse me), nenda zako.
And instantly, their faces blanked, and they left the bakery immediately. By then, I knew I made a faux pouts, and hurt their feelings. I imagined them telling their parents how rude and nasty Koreans, and specifically Korean volunteers, are. What a disservice to my country!
It turns out that “nenda zako” is a rude way of saying “go away,” and 네 갈 길을 가라 isn’t far off either. I’m just glad that the phrase isn’t as rude as “fuck off.”
Sorry kids, next time I’ll just say “basi.”