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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Interpreter, Please! Learning Zulu in South Africa - Page 2

Written by Kelly N. Patterson
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“Where are you going this time?”  Family and friends asked.

“Well, I can’t exactly pronounce it,” I confessed.  “But I can spell it:  H-L-A-B-I-S-A.”

“Where?” they chorused.

“It’s a rural area in north-western Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.”

Blank looks followed by further questioning: “But where in South Africa?  I mean which country?  Zimbabwe?  Zambia?”

“I’m happy!”  A young Zulu woman enthusiastically greeted me at Richard’s Bay Airport.  A bit flustered by her joie de vivre, I stuttered: “Oh, sawubona! I’m pleased to meet you, too.”

“I’m your new assistant,“ the gleeful lady said as she stuck out her hand.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“I’m happy!” she cheered again and grabbed my bags.  Bewildered, I asked in Zulu.

“I’m happy!” her grin widened.  I gave up.  It took me days to realize her name was actually “Happy.”

Happy and Caesar, the driver, escorted me in a retired ambulance from Richard’s Bay Airport through Hluhluwhe-Umfolozi Game Park to my new home in Hlabisa.

“Your house is the rondavel,” the self-proclaimed happy woman pointed at a cluster of clay buildings.  As far as I could see there were five square huts.

“Excuse me, which house is mine?”

“Dat one. The rondavel, “she pointed emphatically.

“But none of them are round, “I stated and asked at the same time.  Happy looked at me as if I had spoken in tongues.  She got out of the ambulance and started walking towards a square hut and pointed: “Dat one, OK?”

When Happy and Caesar started to drive off, I realized I had no keys to get into the square hut they called a “rondavel. “ I ran after the ambulance, directly up to Happy’s window.

“You forgot to give me the keys!” I screamed over the Harley-like engine, through a closed window.  Happy looked at me as if an armadillo was playing a saxophone on my head; she glanced nervously at the driver.

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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