I've been lost, and other adventures in Kenglish
Every foreigner in Kenya is familiar with Kenglish, those terms and turns of phrase that are unique to this country. Most of us come to understand it and a few, me included, occasionally find themselves peppering their speech with choice bits of Kenglish like:
"Nice time!" and "Safe journey!" -- breezy abbreviations to wish you on your way
"Fine" in response to "Hello," because the standard Kiswahili greeting is "How are you?"
"You've added" to tell someone they've gained weight
-- Note: This is always said cheerfully
"Me, what I know," as a preface to any declarative sentence
-- Example: "Me, what I know, he went to America and he has added"
"Now now," meaning immediately, as opposed to "just now," meaning sometime during the current lunar phase
"Within," a broad locator meaning the place you're currently in
-- Example: "Did you go out of town for Christmas?" "No, I was just within"
All the qualifying variations on "OK," as in "very OK," "just OK," "somehow OK" and even "not so very OK" (which I actually heard once).
My favorite, however, is a greeting I've been hearing a lot since I returned to Nairobi after a month away. I'll see someone for the first time since before Christmas and they'll say, "You've been lost!"
The Kiswahili greeting for a long-lost person, or just one who's been out of touch, is Umepotea, which roughly translates to, "You got yourself lost" (please correct my pidgin translation). Naturally, the subject wasn't lost; s/he was away on a trip, or hadn't kept in touch, but always knew exactly where s/he was. And the people who say "you're lost" didn't actually look for you and decide they couldn't find you.
"Lost" can have a pejorative meaning in English, suggesting a mistake. In the Kenyan version it just means you've been away from people who know you. It's a gentle way of tying someone to a place. Kenyans can sometimes go off on a job or a long trip to the city or the village and months could pass before they're seen again. When they finally return it's as if they've been found -- or maybe, and not to get too poetic here, that they've found themselves.
I've often disappeared from Nairobi for weeks unannounced. After I realized that people weren't faulting my sense of direction, I came to like hearing this very Kenyan greeting. I'll probably never use it myself -- it still makes me laugh -- but when I hear it I know I'm home.