The aim of this article is not in any way to fan the smoldering embers of tribalism to a roaring fire nor to stoke the hearth of tribal prejudice. Far from that.
There are some of us who are so much in ‘love’ with our tribal languages that we feel inclined to use them to communicate even in public places and offices – oblivious of the fact that it doesn’t rest very well in the ears of the people who can not help but hear what you are talking with your mate.
(Come to Nairobi and you’ll think you’re at the centre of a Kikuyu colony. Virtually every two other people you meet with conversing will be “Aterere-ing!” You catch the drift.)
Some of the proponents of this ‘system’ find it very easy to gossip about people in and around the office by using their vernacular other than the standard Kiswahili or English that is normally supposed to be used (to communicate in offices and public places).
It incredibly irks me when I hear people talking in their mother tongue in an office oblivious of who is around them and what discomfort they leave in their wake.
But the results of using the mother tongue in public places do sometimes turn out to be amusing and embarrassing all in one pot.
This reminds me of a certain incident which took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania some years back. Two Kenyan ladies (from the same tribe) had boarded a bus to town one Saturday morning. As they were settling in the vehicle (Daladala), a burly man got into the vehicle and sat close to them.
One look at the man and one of the ladies almost instantly started telling her friend, in mother tongue, what she thought of the man: a big, good-for-nothing man. In the same vein and tongue, the other lady, tongue-in-cheek, said that she wouldn’t date a guy his size. And she also thought that he wore smelly socks.
And the undue criticism of the man went on and on.
The man got off the vehicle first. As he was alighting, he turned to the two ladies with a sly smile playing on his lips, and, in their mother tongue (the girls’), wished them a good day. This struck the ladies and they realized that what they had all along said about the man had been understood by him. With egg on their faces, they just looked down and felt immensely foolish.
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