Who says Spanish has no use in East Africa?

One thing that seems quite unavoidable when it comes to being a white, Nanyuki, resident is getting unwanted attention. Usually, I don’t mind it–I find turning down sunglass vendors, taxi drivers, and so on rather amusing. Plus, great chance to practice my Swahili–they’re a very captive audience. However, one instance that’s not so awesome is when someone drunk/high on miraa (the local drug) decides to follow you as you walk from your home into town. It’s not dangerous in any respect, but 20 minutes of “my brother, please help me” gets a little tiring. And for what it’s worth, it’s not that I’m super averse to helping others when they ask for things (more on that in a later post) but if I’m gonna help someone out, it’s not gonna be the drunk dude asking his “brother” for some assistance.

My former co-worker Emma was impressively ruthless in her telling them off, and was able to do so in Swahili. However, on the few occasions when this would happen, I remember thinking (in addition to being mad impressed by her Swahili) that by speaking in a language they were comfortable in, she wasn’t helping her cause.

Yesterday, as I was walking to work, a man walking saw me, and yelled “Gentleman! Please wait for me.” Groan. I kept walking, but to my dismay discovered he was now sprinting to catch up with me, and ask for some favors from his “new friend.”

I was struck by some sudden inspiration though. I would be “el espanol”, someone visiting Kenya from Spain who it just so happened, didn’t speak English.

I turned and asked “Como?”
He paused. “….what?” he asked, taken aback.
“Como?” I repeated, and then kept walking. When I snuck a glance a little while later, I found he wasn’t following me any more.

If I learned anything as an international economics student, it’s not to conclude too much from a sample size of one, and I can’t trust that this strategy will work going forward. However, in the future, when confronted with new “brothers” and “friends” ready to ask me for some funds, and moreover, ready to pester me for 20 minutes about it, I am now fully prepared to re-adopt the “el espanol” persona, and kindly explain to them, in Spanish, that I really have no idea what they are saying.

And accordingly now, I’m weirdly somewhat excited for the next drunk/high person to pester me for money, because this time anyway, I have a plan in place.

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2 Responses to Who says Spanish has no use in East Africa?

  1. N P says:

    Takes me back to the days when your mom and I would converse in Spanish so little ears wouldn’t understand what we were saying. I am also reminded of time we responded to a telemarketer in Spanish and heard him say, “Palm, that’s not a Spanish name.” Later a Spanish speaking telemarketer called. We will look forward to more posts about the success or lack there of with regard to your el espanol persona.

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