You have to love a mellifluous way of communicating with “pole pole,” “kukutana,” “mimi pia,” “na wewe,” “Shikamoo!” “piga pasi,” etc. in its repertoire. And, as my book club mate, Eric, points out, Kiswahili seems to use more vowels than any other Earthly vernacular. The language is simply terrific, more or less accessible to anyone intent on learning it, although more so for under-30 types. Sarah and I spent a week at a shule ya lugha outside of Iringa, daily tearing our hair out at our poor memory retention—could ease of acquiring a new language be an undiscovered early marker for Alzheimer’s?—but nightly pumped up by the unconditional joy we provided to restaurant staff when we could use our Kiswahili to order beer (bia) to eat (kula) and rice (wali) to drink (kunywa, not to be confused with kunya or kuma, which I think belong in the Kiswahili Urban Dictionary).
We also benefited from daily rides—from center city Iringa to the rural “River Valley campsite” location of the language school—from an Australian Anglo Anglican, a minister spending several months in the area with his family doing volunteer work and hosting a contingent of Australian teenagers helping in the local schools. All of the others taking Kiswahili with us at the “campsite” represented missionary organizations primarily engaged in primary-secondary education and public health. Our life in Dar seems Saks on Fifth Avenue in comparison to theirs, since most would be living and working in underserviced rural areas and taking on work well outside their comfort zone. For example, one experienced German neurologist and psychotherapist at the language school had just finished a
quick retraining to perform Caesarian sections as part of her medical duties in a remote village in southernmost Tanzania.
Iringa itself is a sparkling little town, comfortable on the skin and lying at the center of the Southern Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania, an effort sponsored by the national government, international donors, NGOs, and the private sector to promote agricultural intensification in an environmentally friendly way. Among a cast of thousands of stakeholders, World Wildlife Fund has a presence, Sarah’s raison d’être in Tanzania. The town also hosts the understated Commonwealth Cemetery, a sweet but sad spot with ~150 graves of mostly WW I soldiers from British colonial regiments in the Triple Entente forces.
With over 150,000 residents, the Iringa municipality represents the primary urban center in a largely rural region, but one that actually has experienced an unusual decrease in rural population since 2000, according to Tanzanian census figures. The nearly 50 percent increase in the municipality’s population in this new century also reflects national trends, where even as rural areas still house a majority of the country’s overall population, urban centers make up a rapidly increasing share of the rapidly growing overall Tanzania population. This rapid urbanization of course makes Tanzania (and particularly places such as Dar) a captivating ground central to an urban-enviro guy like me, even as other urbanophiles may shake their heads in dismay at the upshot on the ground.
Much more “trash talking” about this later.