Lost in Translation.


Sunset on Lake Malawi

I recently made quite a helpful discovery.

Apparently many Malawians mix up their R’s and L’s.  Not just in a ‘bad African English’ kind of way, but rather in a, ‘ phonetic–ly swap them over’ kind of way.  They don’t just accidently replace an R with a L, like our Sammy sometimes does with R’s and W’s, they actually also spell words by swapping R’s and L’s.  So for example, the name ‘Grace’, is pronounced and spelt ‘Glace’.

Weird. However, I am so glad I figured this one out.  It has cleared up a LOT of misunderstandings.

For example; Everyday for the past 6 months I have passed a sign on the way to school, which says the following;


               ERECTLICS  AND LOOFING – best man on the job!


Well. The mind boggles. Mine has done so for months.

Turns out, he is an electrician who also offers roofing.  Thank goodness I figured that one out.

Another example.

A few weeks ago, our gardener asked me to buy ‘bloom’ for the garden.  So, off I popped to the garden center to purchase lots of packets of brightly colored flower seeds to sow.  Days later, he reminded me about the ‘bloom’ he needed, and rather baffled I explained,

“But Lamec, I gave you the blooms.” He, in turn, looked baffled and asked me,

“When did you give me the bloom?”  I, in turn, looked more baffled and said,

“Yesterday.” He, in turn, looked even more baffled and said,

“Yesterday you gave me flowers.” I, in turn, looked even even more baffled and said,

“What’s the difference between flowers and blooms?” to which he replied in  complete utter undisguised bafflement,

“Madam, flowers is for the garden, bloom I need to sweep with”


The thing is, now I am wondering if his name is actually Lamec at all, or if it is really Ramec. And I’m wondering if the housekeeper, Rose, is actually Lose.

It’s all very confusing.


We have had lots of opportunity to travel this beautiful land the past few weeks.

We managed to make it to Cape maclear on the southern lakeshore, which is a wonderful traditional fishing village, rich in culture and bubbling with life.   It is a glorious picture postcard location, where tourism and local life are somehow compatibly intertwined in a rare companionable partnership, where it appears neither is robbing the other.

Woman washed their cooking pots and clothes in the lakeImage

whilst folks like us kayaked past.


Men lolloped around on dug out canoes waiting to pull in the days catch.


We lazed in the sun.  Naked children laughed and bathed and played in the waters edge. Ours played and swam too.


The rhythm is slooooow and people smile a lot.

I reckon if you were Malawian and could choose to live anywhere, this would be it.

Fish, irrigation for the land, water for sanitation and extreme beauty. Not a bad package. Throw in a good well equipped medical center giving access to healthcare and a school, and what else do you need?  Really?  Without the complications of western expectations, life could actually be simple and beautiful.  Simply beautiful.

I was wondering today if regular Malawian children ever say ‘I’m Boooored’.  I wonder if there is even a word for ‘bored’ in Chichewa.  Do they even understand the concept of ‘bored’, or is boredom something contrived of  ‘having’.  Does one have to have experienced our world full of stimulation, complication and excess, to feel the lack of it, to understand the state of ‘being bored’.    Its not that Malawians don’t look bored – or rather, their lives look boring, but I don’t know if  they ‘feel’ the boredom, I wonder if maybe they like the boredom…I think maybe what we call boredom they would call something else altogether. Does it even exist

Does any of that make any sense at all?  Sometimes what’s in my head just has to kind of tumble out. I know it’s a bit erratic, but it does makes sense to me.

Perhaps I will put the question to Rose (or Lose) this week.  ‘Do you have a word in Chichewa for ‘Bored’, and do Malawians get bored?’ I can picture her expression now.   Its okay, she already thinks I’m a complete fruitcake, I can’t tell you the number of times she has come running into the room saying ‘yes madam’ only to discover I wasn’t addressing her at all, just merely having a conversation with myself. That’s the problem with having staff.  No hiding your idiosyncrasies.  Bails also thinks I’m a total fruitcake for exactly the same reason.

Hey ho.

E x


About Emily M. Bailey

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2 Responses to Lost in Translation.

  1. Liz Cole says:

    Wonderful as usual Ems – you always make complete sense! xx

  2. Pascal Watkins says:

    Em you write beautifully and all your ramblings make perfect sense!

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