Traveling to Kenya for the first time? well you need to at least know a few of the common words that the locals mostly use. A couple of years ago, I met a Tanzania friend in Dares Salaam. We were talking about their country(Tanzania) and my country, Kenya. Normally, when such discussions crop up, touching on the language issue can never be avoided. I kept telling her how I found it easier to familiarize with their country courtesy of easier communication. My observation was that speaking fluent Kiswahili is something very helpful when one visits Tanzania. But I amused her when I said that I lacked the Chagga accent in my Kiswahili and it was easier to tell that I was the foreigner. On her part, she told me that her first Kenyan visit made her learn new things.
After years of assumption that in Kenya all people speak English and to little extent Kiswahili, she was bombarded by a newer environment where she heard some ‘strange’ local dialects, and another rather familiar language. Masumbuko told me that this language sounded like a mixture of English and Kiswahili. But she claimed knows a few words that are mostly used by Kenyan musicians. When I rejoined the conversation, I explained to her that the language is known as ‘sheng’ casually used in the streets of Nairobi and other urban areas in Kenya. However, she is not the first and last victim of this, many people visiting and traveling in Kenya for the first time will be amazed by what they hear because it is contravening their expectations.
To be on a safer ground and have smoother communication, there are words that you will need to be taught when land in Kenya. They are slang majorly used in the markets and transport sector. This makes it mandatory that for easier communication while traveling and shopping, one must familiarize with them. Here are the words:
‘Traveling to Kenya for the first time, Know the unofficial Language Sheng’–
Mathree or Mat is a slang or sheng word used to refer to a ‘matatu’ or a minivan especially the town service public service vehicles. It is a word that cannot be used to refer to long- distance public service vehicles. Knowing the meaning of this word can enable you ask for guidance on the type of a vehicle to board to the estates within the city. The word ‘Ma-three’ can sometimes be abbreviated as ‘Mat’ for some people prefer using it shortly as that. ‘Doh’– Whichever currency around the world has an associated name that is used by the locals to refer to it.
In Kenya, Sheng is widely spoken and this is why the money has a name in sheng. Doh is that name. There are other names such as ‘ganji’ among other names that have been rendered obsolete. Money also has denominations which have been assigned various names such as: Finje, hamsa’ or chwani all of which are used to refer to 50 shillings. 10 shillings is ashu, 5 shillings is ngovo, 200 shillings is rwabe, 1000 shillings is ngire 100 is soo. Having been conversant with all the words used to refer to the demonstrations of Kenyans Shilling, engaging in transactions can never be a hill to climb.
If you are traveling to Kenya for the first time then you need to atleast know the names of the cities and major towns. It is crucial that you get to know the names of major cities and towns so that you can get to know the country better. Nairobi is widely and famously referred to as Nai. The name is normally a two syllable word that is an abbreviation of the official name. Mombasa is mostly referred to as Momba. The name is also an abbreviation . Sometimes, the coastal city is referred to as Pwani, a Kiswahili word meaning coast. Kisumu has no modern sheng reference name but the lakeside city has been referred to as ‘Odhumo’ for decades. Other major towns such as Eldoret (Eldy), Nakuru (Naks) and Kakamega (KK) among others have also been assigned names. Having been well acquainted with these terms, you can go about your daily businesses are use the few Kiswahili words you know to express yourself. Welcome to Kenya.