Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Word on theTanzanian Culture of Sympathy

20 September 2007

“Pole.” This phrase is uttered, literally, millions of times every day in Tanzania. It means, “Sorry.” However, the gravity that this phrase carries is dependent upon the context, but the word stays the same, sometimes followed by “sana” (very). Here are some examples:

Your goat ran away? Pole.

Your luggage was stolen? Pole.

You dropped something and it made a loud noise? Pole.

You have a touch of malaria? Pole.

Your infant child died? Pole sana.

I was told by a current PCV that the essential meaning of the phrase is, “It sucks to be you.” This is not to say that every time this phrase is said, it’s completely insincere, but nine times out of ten it’s just to fill the silence.

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