Thursday 6 October 2011

Lost in Translation.

Gareth and I sat at the table in the tiny closet that passed for a classroom to do our monthly Swahili exam.  Reading comprehension.  We came across a sentence upon which everything else clearly hinged: "Sufuria kubwa ilizaa".  Okay, here goes a translation:  "sufuria" = "saucepan".  "kubwa" = "big".  Okay, so far so good.  "ilizaa" = it gave birth.  Huh?!  Gareth and I looked quizzically at each other, unable to talk because it was under the best test conditions possible when we were sat on top of each other and the teacher had left the room.  "Does it mean that someone gave birth in a saucepan?" we wondered to each other.  "Or that someone gave birth TO a saucepan?"  We thought about all the possibilities and concluded that we had misunderstood.  The teacher came back and we asked him what on earth the sentence meant.  "Ha ha!" Laughed our teacher in a way that only jolly African men know how.  "It means that the saucepan gave birth!"  Of course.

The moral of this story is that you can understand as many words as you want but the actual meaning will usually evade you until you think like an African and put aside our European realist mindset.