Monday, December 8, 2008

Language Barrier?

Technically, there is none. Since English is the official language of Kenya, I do not need -- but I definitely want -- to learn to speak Kiswahili, which is the national (common) language.

It is a matter of honoring my hosts. It is also matter of personal and national embarrassment that most Americans speak only English. Even the the children who cannot go to secondary school here speak two languages -- and often one or two tribal languages, as well. I just hope I can learn half as much Kiswahili in Kenya in one year as my young friend Elizabeth learned in one month in Tanzania. (See her wonderful blog: "Here I Am -- in Tanzania!" at

But there are regional and cultural terms and idioms, even in the English language, that are fascinating to me. Some of those fall within the realm of medical jargon, and a few of you may be interested in them, as well. If not, just skip this blog entry! I will add to the list from time to time because I don't want to forget...

At the moment, however, I am confined to quarters by Montezuma's -- or is it Kenyatta's? -- Revenge, and I need to distract myself. (I am reminded of another wonderful blog. Fellow missioner Jeremy Lucas survived a similar experience. He and his wife Penny write at

So, just FYI, dear readers: in Kenya, a bar is called a "beer pot." (Perfect, hm? I only know because the SIGN says so; honest, Bishop Oketch!) When a piece of equipment is lost or misplaced, the equipment is simply labeled "spoilt"; little effort is expended in finding the missing part. The action by a crowd of witnesses who catch and unmercifully beat a cell phone thief is referred to as "mob justice." And the political clash that killed 1,500 people last January was known as "a fracas." (Is that some vestige of colonial British understatement, Father Copley?)

The medical acronyms are another story. In addition to learning how to read Centigrade thermometers, I have discovered:

PTO = Please Turn Over (a page! - vs. Parent Teacher Organization)
NB = No Blood (available for transfusion - vs. nota bene)
RTA = Road Traffic Accident (vs. MVA/Motor Vehicle Accident)
DIB = Difficulty in Breathing (vs. SOB/Shortness of Breath)
FHG = Full Hemogram (vs. CBC/Complete Blood Count)
HOB = Hotness of Body (vs. Head of Bed)
GBW = General Body Weakness
FGC = Fair General Condition
ORS = Oral Rehydration Solution (a poor person's Gatorade)
DOA = Date of Admission (an alarming cover note on every chart)

My own HOB, GBW and FGC are being successfully managed with ORS, tea, toast and proximity to the long drop. Dr. Hardison added Cipro. It's the same treatment in any language. (I'm avoiding DOA as long as possible.)

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