The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: August 2007

Tongue Twisters

English became more than a language: it was the language, and all others had to bow before it in deference.
—Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind

Norfolk TowersNairobi—As reminders of British colonialism go, my new apartment is hard to beat. Norfolk Towers: stiff, upright furniture, heavy green-and-gold curtains, lacquered coffee tables, manicured gardens, and a sparkling outdoor pool, protected from Nairobi by a high wall and a dozen armed guards. You would never suspect what a terrible crime occurred here just three years ago.

Twice a week, my Swahili tutor, Sam, swings by for an hour of mumbo jumbo. Those were in fact two of the first words he taught me; in the original language and spelling, mambo means “how are things,” and jambo is “what’s up.” Not quite the stuff of poetry, but a little more expressive than English speakers make them out to be. (more…)

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Into Kosovo

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat.
—Binyavanga Wainaina, “How to Write About Africa

Nairobi—Someone was banging drums at the entrance to Kosovo. War drums? Impossible to say. Closer investigation revealed only that the noise came from a dilapidated “community hall.”

Children in Kosovo -photo by Chris OjoUnfortunately, two assassins were blocking the entrance. They were disguised as four-year-old boys (never underestimate these people) lying on their stomachs in order to peer through the gap beneath an ill-fitting door, utterly transfixed by the goings-on inside.

The only other spy hole was a small broken window, six feet off the ground. Frantic disembodied heads bobbed in and out of the window frame, black faces contorted under the influence of whatever demons such antics were meant to invoke. There was only one explanation: this, in the local parlance, was dancing. (more…)

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