[Greetings from Nungwi, Zanzibar, my new home-for-the-moment! It was a tough choice, but I decided to switch tracks and will now be living here and teaching yoga for the summer. Come visit. J]
Considering I will be here for so long, and mostly on my own, I decided my favorite method of dealing with unwanted attention and attempted sales—the “ignore and conquer” tactic—may not be my best option here. After all, I don’t really want to be that rude muzungu lady who never talks to anyone for three months (even if, secretly, I would be totally happy to have three reclusive months free of dealing with strangers).
Instead, I’ve decided, I will engage. Stop to chat with, or at least greet, everyone. Practice my increasingly passable Ki-Swahili.
And it’s amazing the difference a few words make. Knowing that “poa” is the response to “mambo,” the most common greeting. Even better, greeting with “mambo vipi,” a more colloquial version, rarely used by tourists.
Five basic words of greeting are all it takes to distance myself from foreigners “fresh off the Zanzibar ferry.” The fact that I can hold an introductory conversation and explain that I am here to live and work, all in (broken) Ki-Swahili? Just icing.
Being able to decline, politely, in Ki-Swahili when offered goods and services means I usually only need to say “no” once, rather than six or seven times. Already, I think I have probably avoided hours of pointless sales pitches for jet-skiing, fishing trips and spice tours.
It is truly incredible to observe the difference a word or two makes. Some seem to appreciate my effort, smiling or laughing with good-natured surprise. Others just respond in English, but my language skills are far too rudimentary for me to take offense at that. Overall, the response has convinced me to share my experience here.
To those traveling or living abroad who are tired of being treated as wallets (or breasts) with legs, try learning a few words of the local language. You’ll still stand out (and women, you’ll still be harassed), but you’ll also stand out from other tourists.
You don’t have to be fluent—no one expects you to be—even ten words will often make a huge difference.
Have you ever experienced the difference a word makes? What was it like?