letters from nairobi

Hot Dogs
March 20, 2012, 16:11
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

I am planning to learn a bit of Swahili to supplement my extensive five-word vocabulary (hello, goodbye, thank you, white person, cold beer). In preparation, I have been trying to learn one new word or phrase per day, thanks to the help and infinite patience of the Kenyans who live and work in and around my neighborhood.

Today’s lesson was more mystifying than illuminating.

The apartment complex guard I am friendly with, Harrison — who has saved me from feral dogs and equally feral men on more than one occasion — taught me the phrase for “It’s hot outside,” or, literally translated, “The sun is hot”: Jua ni kali.

Jua = sun; kali = hot.

As I was walking my dog around the block and muttering this phrase repeatedly in order to remember it — yes, that’s me, the white woman with the giant dog talking to herself — I passed by a sign I see often, nailed to a gate:

The sign, I had been told, means “beware of the dog.” It’s used to designate residences where security companies employ hired guard dogs — usually German Shepherds or Rottweilers that are dropped off each evening and picked up each morning in a barking caravan. But I never took the time to translate the phrase literally.

Mbwa = dog; kali = hot.

Hot dog?

In Swahili,


Or, to put it another way:

Mbwa kali!

…I’m basically fluent.


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