Swahili Phrases That Will Help Keep You Safe

Matatu station in Naivasha KenyaLearning the local language is key to integrating into a new culture. It’s always a good idea to know how to greet locals with “hello” and “how are you.” You’ll probably want to know how to say “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” as well. And, of course, it’s not a bad idea to know how to ask where the closest bathroom is.

While learning the local language is important for truly understanding and appreciating a country and its people, it also allows you to communicate your concerns and be proactive in protecting yourself in unfamiliar territory. What should you say if you feel a pickpocket’s hands on you? What if you’re being harassed by street vendors? Is someone standing a little bit too close for comfort? What do you say then?

As much as I love East Africa, if you’re planning on traveling to Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda, you are likely to encounter a few uncomfortable situations. Travel prepared with these Swahili phrases that will help keep you safe:

Tabia mbaya (tah-be-ah m-bi-yah) – Bad manners.
Unanisumbua (u-nah-nee-sum-bu-ah) – You are bothering me.
Nimeolewa (nee-may-oh-lay-wah) – I am married.
Mimi si mtalii (mee-mee see m-tahl-ee) – I’m not a tourist.
Potea (poh-tay-ah) – Get lost.
Usiniguze (u-see-nee-gu-zay) – Don’t touch me.
Nenda zako (nayn-dah zah-koh) – Go away./Be on your way.
Si hitaji msaada wako (see hee-tah-jee ms-ah-dah wah-koh) – I don’t need your help.
Usijali (u-see-jahl-ee) – Don’t mind./It’s none of your business.
Niache (nee-ah-chay) – Leave me alone.
Nenda nyumbani (nayn-dah num-bah-nee) – Go home.
Siendi (see-end-ee) – I’m not going.
Kaa vizuri (kah vee-zur-ee) – Seat properly.
Hiki ni kiti changu (hee-kee nee kee-tee chahn-gu) – This is my seat.
Unanilalia (u-nah-neel-ah-lee-ah) – You are leaning on me.
Ondoa mikono hapo (ohn-doh-ah mee-koh-noh hah-poh) – Remove your hands there.
Nisaidie (nee-sah-ee-dee-ay) – Help me.
Nimeibiwa (nee-may-ee-bee-wah) – I have had stuff stolen.
Nimepigwa (nee-may-pee-gwah) – I have been beaten.
Chukua kila kitu (chu-ku-ah kee-lah kee-tu) – Take everything.

Note: Many people in East Africa speak some English and in some smaller villages, you may encounter people who only speak a tribal language. Also, while Swahili is the national language, dialects may vary slightly from region to region and country to country.

 

7 Responses to “Swahili Phrases That Will Help Keep You Safe”

  1. Simon monk

    Why not reference our Swahili language guide? It’s free. For the iPhone, or iPod or any other mp3 player.

    available from Worldnomads.com

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Great suggestion! Once it is available at World Nomads, I will provide a link from this post.

      Reply
  2. Sarah

    Scary, but helpful. Definitely keeping this on file for whenever I get it together to get to East Africa. I would love to take a massive road trip there, although I know that’s super high on the dangerous/near impossible scale.

    Reply
  3. JoAnna

    @Sarah ~

    A road trip through East Africa would be a lot of fun, but possibly difficult to plan. Since most everyone gets around by public transportation, there’s minimal “private” parking. I’ve never really thought about going any way but by public transport … now you have me thinking of a whole new adventure!

    Reply
  4. Julie Dawn Fox

    Hi Joana, thanks so much for these phrases. I spent two years in Tanzania and loved it but although I learned enough Swahili to get by, I would have definitely found some of these useful to fend off some of the more persistent pests!

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      A few of these phrases definitely came in handy for me. Who knew that the average person should learn to say more than “please,” “thank you” and “where’s the bathroom?”

      Reply

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