“Badli sha” said the receptionist at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nairobi to the bellboy. She was telling him that the room had been changed. This sounds familiar to the traveler from the South Asia. Badli means change. In Pakistan ‘change’ has a political context as well with Pakistani politician Imran Khan shouting hoarse about Tabdeeli or change for years now.
Kenya is a multilingual country. The most spoken languages are Bantu Swahili and and English, the latter was inherited from the British colonial rule, are widely spoken as lingua franca. They serve as the two official working languages. Including second-language speakers, there are more speakers of Swahili than English in Kenya.
Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is widely spoken in the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The closely related Comorian language, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is sometimes considered a dialect.
Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers vary widely, from 50 million to over 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of three nations: Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognized as the commonly spoken language of the East African Community.
A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic through contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili Coast. The word Swahili has its roots in the Arabic word Sahel or coast. Badli sha no doubt must have its etymological roots in Arabic. The Muslim influence in East Africa is pronounced. Somalia, one of the largest country on the coast of East Africa is almost hundred percent Muslim. Kenya also has a significant Muslim population. Barrak Hussein Obama, the father of former President Barrak Obama was a Muslim hailing from Kenya. Obama visited his Kenyan family as a senator and later as President.
There are a number of mosques in Nairobi. The Jamia Masjid is located on Banda Street, Nairobi, in the Central Business District. It is one of the most prominent Islamic religious structures in the country. It was founded and first built by Syed Maulana Abdullah Shah between the year 1902 and 1906. The Mosque has since been extended since its original construction.
The word of greeting in Swahili is Hujambo or just Jambo. Another common greeting is Habari gani. If you want to be extra polite you can say Shikamo, which literally means “I hold your feet.” This greeting is for your elders. Young children will often mutter Shikamo under their breath when you walk by. The reply to Shikamo is Marahaba. Literally translated to something like “I am delighted, I don’t get that every day.” Marahaba, now doesn’t that sound familiar? Asnate is thank you. I think this was the title of a song sung by Nazia and Zohaib and before I sign off remember the Safari film Hatari. It means danger or snake. I don’t have a clue if it has its roots in Arabic or is it just a native African word.