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Swahili

Swahili (Kiswahili) is still an international language, the lingua franca in much of southeastern Africa, and has 140 million speakers (5 million as mother tongue). It has played a crucial role in Tanzania and is useful over most of Kenya. Though less widely used in Uganda, even there it is, since 2005, the second national language.

We all learned it to various degrees, notably Ben Lindfors, who set to work Amending Nyerere's Julius Caesar, the Swahili translation. Via Ben, we learn from the scholar who became a president that "Kiswahili is a sweet and very open language ... intended to be sung, [though] it is difficult to sing an entire book."

Jerry Atkin got a hint of how the man known simply as Mwalimu (teacher) managed to reach Tanzania's pinnacle of power when he heard Nyerere speak in two languages. "When he switched [from English] to Swahili to tell a story, an amazing transformation took place. Speaking Swahili, he came alive..."

Many have fond memories of the language. Jack Paarlberg's daughter learned it well and it was part of his Greatest Gift. Brooks Goddard has never forgotten his dynamite teacher, Sharifa Zawawi nor Ron Stockton his radio-transmitted lessons in "ever-so-proper" coastal Swahili, a part of his Kenya Nostalgia.

And do not let Ed Schmidt's modest title deceive you. Well beyond Dabbling in Swahili, he still can get by in the up-country version of the language that his fellow travelers know he still uses on trips to East Africa. He began his studies in bars half a century ago and did his vocabulary drill from miniature flash cards that he produced at the time, kept in matchboxes and still has.


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Atkins, Jerry. Mwalimu.
Goddard, Brooks. Sharifa Zawawi, Mwalimu wa Kiswahili.
Paarlberg, Jack. My Greatest Gift.
Lindfors, Ben. Amending Nyerere's Julius Caesar.
Schmidt, Ed. Dabbling in Swahili.
Stockton, Ron. Kenya Nostalgia.


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