It all started quite innocently in the early days of language training in Samoa. Suluga (the oldest and most amazing language trainer) was going over words with my original language crew (Sana, Kelleah, and Suzie).
We were doing descriptors (tall, short, fat, skinny… blah blah blah). And Suluga blurted out puta in a sentence (which in Samoan means fat). Sana and I gasped and then fell to the floor in a fit of giggles. Immature, sure. But it was funny.
As I’ve traveled and tried to learn words along the way, these situations end up happening more often than not. The worst part is, is that it usually involves a bad word. Why it never happens with the good words, I’m not sure.
Another example: After living in Samoa for a little over three years, spending some time at home in Ohio and then moving to Hawai`i, I was immediately greeted with “E Komo Mai” all over the place. Again. The giggles. And a little bit of shock to see this “profanity” splattered all over the place.
So, I’m reading my volunteer stuff the other night. They really suggest learning as much Swahili as one can. I’ll do some studying, because nothing’s worse than not being able to communicate (just ask my host family in Samoa). I was going over the basics, and immediately come to another of those words: mimi (which means “I” in Swahili). I had flashbacks of Keliana telling everyone in Samoa about her (grandmother) Mimi and how everybody would kind of smile politely and then wonder what in the world she was talking about. Mimi in Hawaiian is pretty benign – urine. But in Samoan – it is the slang way of referring to female genitalia. Good times. So now everytime I say “I” in Swahili, that’s what I’ll be thinking of.
This is the stuff that keeps my inner adolescent occupied, people.