The Kiswahili Interview

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Sometimes the Lotto guys ask me to interview someone who has won big. It’s very simple. They send me a number, I call the person up, I do a quick phone interview then I send an invoice. It’s a hassle free gig. Touch and go. The money isn’t too bad either for the amount of work. And everybody goes home happy, right?

Wrong.

Two weeks ago a lady called Beth Wairimu won the Sh10 Million powerdraw. I received an email with her phone number. “Call her up, get her story,” the instructions from Lotto read. Very James Bond-sque. Very covert. I liked. I felt like we were doing something that was going to change how the world operates. I thought they’d send a rider over with a gadget that could do many covert things. Oh well.

Anyway, I called Wairimu up. You know those people who pick up their calls and scream, “Ni nani?” Well, that was Wairimu. But if you have 10-meter in your bank account you can pick up your calls any way you damn well please. It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to interview this lady in English. There was only a slight problem, my Swahili is shit. I truly struggle with it. I normally have to construct the sentence in my head before I speak it out and even when I have said it, it always sounds grammatically off. Kiti yangu? Kiti changu?

“Wairimu,” I told her, “naitwa Biko.”

“Ati nani?” She screeched.

“Biko.”

“Niko?”

“ Biko. B-I-K-O!”

“Oh, sema?”

[By the way, you have to read her part in a screechy high pitched voice. I don’t know why people scream on the phone.]

“Nilipatiwa namba yako na Fred, nataka niku interview kuhusu lile shindo lako ya milioni kumi…” [Lile shindo, got that? I was going all Swaleh on her].

“Acha nikupigie…” She said suddenly and hung up. Since I was calling her outside our office parking lot, I had no choice but to hang around there and wait for the call back. She didn’t call back. I called her in the afternoon.

“Sasa Wairimu, ni Biko,”

“Ati nani?”

“Biko, tuliongea asubuhi, ulisema utani-.”

“Sema!” She screamed.

“Sasa nilikuwa nataka nikuuliza maswali nyeti kuhusu lile shindo lako la [ya?] 10million…” [I decided at night that I might as well use the word “nyeti” when I have the chance because it makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about. Plus when else will I ever get a chance in my life to use that word?]

“Ati unanipiga kutoka wapi?”

“Hapa Nairobi…”

“Nani alikuambia nime shinda pesa?”

“Uhm, watu wa Lotto…”

“Uliongea na Debrah?”

“Hapana, simjui Debrah…”

“Uliongea na nani?”

“Nilipata email tu, kutoka kwa watu wa Lotto.” [I was tempted to say “email nyeti” but that would be overboard, no?]

There was silence, but a different kind of silence. This one was filled with suspicion. There are silences that are filled with awe. Like when someone says something profound and you pause for a second to digest it. That’s an awe-filled silence. There is also silence filled with cynicism. Like when you pick your car keys on a Sunday and the madam asks you where you are going and you say to the carwash and she doesn’t say anything. That’s a silence filled with cynicism. Then there is this one that is filled with suspicion.

I then I figured what was happening. She thought I was a con artist, trying to get a hold of her money. So I moved to assure her.

“Bett, skiza, mimi naandikia watu wa Lotto, mimi ni mwandishi..”

“Unaandikia gazeti?”

“Hapana, hii naandikia internet. Kwenye blog!”

“Ati unaandikia blog, hiyo ni nini?”

[Oh she got me. What do you call a blog in swa? Blogi?]

“Hiyo iko kwenye internet, uhm, kwenye mtandao!”  [Look at me, using big swa words. Is mtandao really internet?]

“Ahh, mimi sijui hiyo, Acha nikupigie.” Then she hung up. I wanted to eat all the buttons on my shirt, she kept hanging up on me. Made me believe that perhaps she thought I was trying to trace her location like they do in the movies so she could only stay on phone for under a minute.

So I call Fred, who got this gig and I told him that the story wasn’t going anywhere. The lady thinks I’m a thug. Then I see her calling back and I tell Fred, “acha I call you back, she is calling me back.”

“Niko?”

“Ni Biko.”

“Sasa ulikuwa unataka kujua nini?”

“Una fanya kazi gani?”

“Niko na duka hapa Umoja.”

“Uko na watoto?”

“Mtoto mmoja, ako miaka sita.”

“Ahh, bwana anafanya kazi gani?”

“Sina bwana.” She said emphatically. Like it was beneath her to have a husband. Like people with husbands were weak. She said it like she was over that husband shit many years ago.

“Oh, ma’bwana ni shida tupu,” I said lightly, trying to create a rapport. It was us against husbands. We were outliers!

She ignored that quip because for all she cared I could be calling her from Kamiti.

“Ulicheza mara ngapi kushinda hii pesa?”

“Mara mbili, na shilingi hamsini, kwa radio Maisha…ebu ngoja,” she said and then I heard the phone being placed on a hard surface and then another conversation ensued between her and someone buying a cigarette. His voice, faint as it may be, sounded scratched and rough, a voice full of years of smoke. He coughed a few times. There is rustling. Then a little laughter- hers. She was telling him about bringing more trays, which made him a supplier. I stood there with my phone to my face and I waited and listened to a conversation about eggs, which is not so bad because I love eggs, except poached eggs because I’m against poaching of any kind. Finally she came back on phone but her tone has changed. She said, “Nikubaya siku hizi, sijui wewe ni nani…”

I’m thinking, the hell? I just told you I’m Biko. I write for mtandao. I’m one of the good guys. What did that smoker tell you??

“Mimi sio mtu mbaya, mimi ni mwandishi -”

“Aii, ni kubaya haki…acha nikupigie…”

She never called back. I had only four pieces of information: She is a single mother. She has a shop in Umoja. She played Lotto on Radio Maisha. She calls me Niko.

Not much for a story.

But you can’t blame her. This our Nairobi is full of con jobs. There are people who will call you from “Kenya Power” and try con you. There are people who will pose as people looking for suppliers and write you a fake banker’s cheque. (Happened to Fred).  When you are done with these characters you have to contend with people from Kamiti shaking your phone for loose change. Don’t even get me started on those land cons.  Or mechs who change a kidney for parts. Or unscrupulous car brokers. The city of full of hustlers who want to eat your lunch.

So if you won 10 mil, of course there will be chaps who will want in. Or maybe move in with you. People might even want to be your husband…until the money runs out. Or chaps who will tell you they can double that money if you just place it right here, under this stack of newspaper and you wear this blindfold and sing “macarena” 3 times really fast. When you open your eyes, you won’t even find the dust that was settled under the stack of newspapers.

Suffice it to say, Wairimu’s story will never be told. And if it is, it will be one sentence. “She told the mwandishi to kiss her ass.”

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136 Comments
  1. ” I stood there with my phone to my face and I waited and listened to a conversation about eggs, which is not so bad because I love eggs, except poached eggs because I’m against poaching of any kind.”

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  2. wololololo, laughed my head out in the office…I clearly don’t blame her but good try on the swa(haha nyeti tings)

  3. I read somewhere that only 1/5th of Nairobi can claim legitimate sources of income or employment. The other majority lives off of this tiny number. Eat your lunch they will.

  4. For someone who says nyeti, and mtandao, and gives some thought to ngeli.. Ie shindo lako … I say your Swahili is pretty decent…hahaha

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  5. what do you call a blog in Swa, by the way? 😀 :-D, once tried preaching to people in the heart of Samburu once upon a time, let’s just say it was quite something, awesome read, 🙂

  6. Lol. Nice read. Kiswahili is not easy. Si i thought internet is tovuti? ama?
    Like they say, Hii kenya si ya mama ya mtu, you cannot trust no one lol.

      1. Didn’t know tovuti was even a word. If someone would have said that to me out loud would have thought they were on something, just not caffeine.

  7. Hahaha! Niko surely! learn Swahili, ati shindo? Ushindi is more like it. Your ears went through such pain and you still did not get the story,pole.

  8. Or chaps who will tell you they can double
    that money if you just place it right here,
    under this stack of newspaper and you
    wear this blindfold and sing “macarena” 3
    times really fast. When you open your eyes,
    you won’t even find the dust that was
    settled under the stack of newspapers” am soooo dead!

  9. Am trying to work then out of nowhere Biko’s temptation appears in my inbox,decisions must be made.The devil is a liar.

  10. Hehehe Biko, kiswahili chako!
    ‘Lile shindo lako ya milioni kumi’ ati whaaat?
    ‘nikuulize maswali nyeti’ oh boy!
    ‘naandika internet’ hehehe pls niokotwe nimalize kusoma priis
    ‘i write for mtandao”blogi’ woiii umezika kiswahili
    ebu maliza hiyo sentensi ya last in swa..use the word ‘nyeti’

  11. I’m thinking, the hell? I just told you I’m Biko. I write for mtandao. I’m one of the good guys. What did that smoker tell you?? Biko you do realize your name is not synonymous to trustworthy right? and your swahili is extremely bad,had a good laugh though

  12. k “shindo lako ya milioni kumi”? Really? I am no swahili shakespeare but I can’t trust someone that tells me that over the phone unless its Swaleh Mdeo himself. I know Wairimu acted in god faith. To her it doesn’t matter if you don’t write shit about her. Methinks she even though you were her ex trying to come back with and alias. I would definately not want my ex back after winning 10 millis. And speaking of con artists in Nairobi, when I was done with cllege and was fresh in the city there’s this Mr. Murimi who emptied me a clean 17K and God knows that is all the cash I had for that month and prolly the next three or so before I got a gig. I cried naked in my bedsitter sipping on some strungi and wondering why God had forsaken me 🙂 Funny when I think of it now. When I am all rich and famous I will put a manhunt for that guy. And Biko how about you write a swahili piece for us sometime when you’re feeling Mdoe-ish 🙂

  13. HEHEHEHE….Maybe your swa was the cause of the botched interview Biko. Even I would be wary of a “mwandishi wa mtandao”fidgeting and struggling to speak a language.

  14. “Oh, ma’bwana ni shida tupu,” I said lightly, trying to create a rapport. It was us against husbands. We were outliers!
    ….lol

  15. A word of caution should you try to have a face to face interview with her…go with a branded LOTTO car and security just in case.

  16. Hahahahaha… Shindo indeed… It sounds like you were trying to beat her up on the phone!!! Your Swahili can get you kidnapped… But it was good fun reading that!

    Swahili words for the day “Nyeti” and “Shindo” with a note to self, find ten ways to use the words correctly in a Swahili sentence. Hilo basi ndilo swala nyeti

  17. I know this is a true story because last Saturday but one she was interviewed on kameme FM n she sounded just the way u described her. Wish I know her nimwambie ur harmless

  18. Biko nina swali nyeti hapa , what if the eggs are poached to submission? You wouldn’t change your mind still?

  19. The car wash silence had me laughing so hard. We normally disappear there at around 1100 hrs n not a hide or hair is seen of us for 12 hours. I can literally see the “cynicism” in the missus’ s eye.

  20. You have really beautiful sentences ‘…because I love eggs, except poached eggs because I’m against poaching of any kind…’ Love it!

  21. Hhehehehh this has cracke dme up really badly! you going all swaleh on her..shindo? nothing like that inswahili…it has to be about ule ushindi wako wa Lotto….Maswali nyeti…hehehe maswali machache…..as always its amazing!

  22. Niko,niko! Laughed all through.go to the shop and speak with her as you write the full story. Awaiting niko (screeched voice )

  23. If I won 10 million, I would not talk to a “mwandishi wa mtandao” unless they gave me their birth certificate number & KRA Pin (offhead) and at least six professional referees, including an Egyptian.

  24. Hahaha…..I have really laughed reading this story at Panafric …I forgot I was in some posh hotel….Kiswahili chako…wacha tu. I loved the part that ‘sina bwana’ like it was beneath her to have a husband.. Niko this story is hilarious. I would never give you my story if I won 1m leave alone 10m

  25. That lady is just being cautious,she knows the world is full of cons,but anyway “Niko”,you really ‘excelled’ the kiswahili part.hahahaha

  26. this bit carried the day for me

    “Sina bwana.” She said emphatically. Like it was beneath her to have a husband. Like people with husbands were weak. She said it like she was over that husband shit many years ago.

  27. lol….i love this…ati shindo ama shindano? Biko kindly correct me on that….if it were me, i think i would have not picked up the call. You are right, Nairobi ina mikora lol..keep writing Biko…you are an inspiration, you’ve made my afternoon

  28. ““Sina bwana.” She said emphatically. Like it was beneath her to have a husband. Like people with husbands were weak. She said it like she was over that husband shit many years ago.”
    “She told the mwaandishi to kiss her ass!”
    I’m on the floor with laughter..you’ve told the story satisfactorily..Niko!

  29. Hahaha napemda jinsi unavyo jaribu Biko. Labda siku moja utafanya mahojiano kwa lugha ya kiswahili. Ukinihoji ama ukimhoji Magufuli
    Nice read Biko!

    1. Eti Magufuli!wee bana wataka mtukufu rais azirai Biko akimuambia vile yuataka kutembelea sehemu nyeti za Dar.

  30. The woman is absolutely blameless for her skepticism. Hope by now the lotto team has reached her through an alternative. Aki hyo pesa isiende tu ivo!

  31. Can you blame her? With that Swahili and yet you claim we ni mwandishi wa mtandao? Hahahaha.
    Really? Of course to her you must have sounded like Satan sent you from Kamiti!

  32. How can an African man, black man, born in Swahili land know more English than his own Swahili language? Is this the effects of colonization that we can’t erase or?

  33. Hello Biko

    Big up to one more beautifully written post.

    I’ll have you know; some of your readers are South Africans.

  34. Hahaha I love how she says ‘Acha nikupigie’shes adapted so quickly and smoothly into the rich life no more beeping people and sending ‘please call me’ hehehe

  35. Blame chocolate man’s poor oswayo on his village’s proximity to the lake. Kiswahili language is beneath them! Ask Anyang’ of the ‘cancer inatibwa’ fame.

  36. Biko alias Niko…just take a mat to umoja..simple…we meed to read Wairish story as written by you. Ata mimi siwezi pea wewe info kwa simu ya rununu…ni kumbaya Nairobi hii

  37. There must be a Hogwarts somewhere under a wooden bridge where kina Biko can go learn Swahili yawa.Murder in the first!

  38. Learn some Swa, it is our National Language! The only person I excuse for speaking a pathetic Swa is Gideon Moi. #BlameStMarys

  39. I dont blame her. Con artists are all over the place. Next time try sheng or a mix of Swa and English. Most of us can pull it off. Biko i bet you scored a clean A in swa ile ya high school. Am I right?

  40. Sio shindo, ni ushindi Biko, hehe. Kiswahili kweli sio mdomo chako, na hilo swala ni nyeti. Kizungumkuti kweli, your humour is unparalleled.

  41. Mwandishi wa mtandao-blogi
    Hahahaha am still laughing and the comments are just outta this world- icing on the cake

  42. Well written articles like yours renews my faith in to&y1d#82a7;s writers. You’ve written information I can finally agree on and use. Thank you for sharing.

  43. So if you won 10 mil, of course there will be chaps who will want in. Or maybe move in with you. People might even want to be your husband…until the money runs out. Or chaps who will tell you they can double that money if you just place it right here, under this stack of newspaper and you wear this blindfold and sing “macarena” 3 times really fast. When you open your eyes, you won’t even find the dust that was settled under the stack of newspapers…..hahahahahaha…how i love this blog,my oh my

  44. “Sasa nilikuwa nataka nikuuliza maswali nyeti kuhusu lile shindo lako la [ya?] 10million…” [I decided at night that I might as well use the word “nyeti” when I have the chance because it makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about. Plus when else will I ever get a chance in my life to use that word?]
    O my! Brilliant piece!

  45. Been looking for this post because I really love how you described silence.Write a book Biko!!!!Biko write a book