Monday, August 13, 2007

pole - sorry

pole -

as i have mentioned nearly a dozen times, i love the word "pole" [po'-lay]
it is certainly one of my favorite kiswahili words. (next to shangalabangala) i love it because it is so ubiquitous, appropriate in nearly any situation.  my first introduction to it came 2 yrs ago when i first visited john. we would go running and people would call out, "pole docktari!" it was a bit confusing- why were people telling john "sorry"? i could come up with all sorts of self deprecating explanations, but as john learned and then imparted to me-- they were actually saying sorry just because we were running at all. now, having been here so long, i hear it all the time. just walking in to the office, people will say "pole, dada" to me, because i look pathetic or flushed. "sorry that you look awful"

the thing about "pole" is that it jumps the gun on American pessimism and self pity.  it reminds me of grad school, when we were rebuked for making our lives an opera- that is, when we were chastised for being over dramatic, wallowing in our problems.  at UI, in the states, and even from my own family, i have always been told to "buck up," be less over emotional.  if anyone ever says "sorry" it is only full of irony. but here! well when a tanzania says "pole" they mean it. and as such you always respond "asante" [ah-sahn'-tay] thanks.

well, since they really do say sorry for just about everything, of course mother and i can't help but single handedly introduce sarcasm to the country.  "pole" should be = sorry for you about such and such. we tend to also use it to mean = sorry to me because you've wronged me. i also tend to say it to devil children as = sorry, you shouldn't do that. then occasionally it is the "po-LAY" with a southern twang (or at least elliot accuses me of) that means = too bad for you.  it is all in the em-pha'-sis

but when the computer crashes, full of viruses for the millionth time, and i yell at it- full of frustration "Pole!!" and some completely random person walking by says "Asante!" actually meaning, why thank you for recognizing and saying sorry to me! i realize yet again that despite the tone my self pity goes unrecognized.
some spanish donors came by to give money and visit and had the audacity to bring along with them a magnetic sign to stick to our office car, just in case anyone forgot who they were:
mother, of course, thought it best to screw with them:

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