Last Updated on by

Have you ever been in a situation when you wished you could curl up and die? From sheer embarrassment? 

Of course you have! That’s probably one of the things you’ve blogged about as well. No, I’m not judging you. I’m just saying that it’s more common than you think.

Way back in my teen years ( Ha, thought I’d say how many years ago?), I was the unwitting victim of just such a scenario. My family had just moved to Kenya and to the incredibly chilly city of Nairobi. My sister and I were busy ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘aah-ing’ our way through the different rooms of our home, which didn’t sport fans or a radiator. The whole aspect of being in a new city, a new country, heck a new continent, was so darned appealing! 

As we were busy settling into the new home, a couple of days later, my mother decided to send me on an errand. She wasn’t sure what the trash disposal practice was in our apartment and decided it would be best to check with the security staff manning the gates. So, trash bag in hand, off I skipped to the large iron gates which protected us from the world outside. As I got there, the burly security guards stood up and asked me in Swahili what I wanted. I didn’t know the language but I could gauge what he was asking.

For a second I was at a loss, as I didn’t know what the Swahili word for ‘trash’ was. Then, a brainwave hit me and I pointed to the bag in my hand and said ‘Garbage’. They looked at me suspiciously and then at each other. One fellow shook his head while the other stepped forward and said, ‘Gabbage’? I nodded vigorously, a huge smile on my face. Then, with a curt nod he motioned for me to follow him. He stepped out of the gates. 

Okay, I know I am not supposed to go anywhere with strangers, but this was the security guard, right?  So, throwing caution and a teeny bit of fear to the winds, I waltzed out the gate. I assumed the trash bins would be right outside. To my surprise, he was walking ahead and signaled that I should follow. This time, I did pause for a second. What was I doing, exactly? Where was I going? Then, tightening my grip on the garbage bag (which was a squishy mess of kitchen refuse) I tagged behind him, keeping a distance of two feet between us.

Photo Credit: Stuart Miles

He walked for about a quarter of a mile and by now, my legs and my mind felt very uneasy. Next thing I know, we were entering a vegetable stall, off the main road. The hefty guard beckoned me closer and with a smile that threatened to split his face open, he held out something for me.

A bright, fresh, green, leafy cabbage!

My jaw dropped and I wasn’t sure if I should cry or crawl into a cave. Blushing a bright shade of crimson, I looked around for help. A kindly soul saw that I didn’t know the language and offered to help translate. After conferring with him, I waited as he turned and spoke in rapid Swahili to the guard. The guard looked at me, at the bag in my hand and at the cabbage in his own.

Then, relief washed over me as he threw his head back and laughed, showing his pearly whites. Wiping tears from his eyes, he said, ‘Oh, you mean “Taka-taka” ‘. 

Well, at least someone was laughing.

{Word count: 597}

Note: Taka-Taka is Trash in Swahili


Click on the link to read more entries

Shailaja V

Hi there! I'm Shailaja Vishwanath, a blogger with 12 years of blogging experience and a parent to a teen. I work as a digital marketing and social media consultant. From positive parenting tips to useful productivity hacks, social media advice to blogging advice, you'll find them all right here. Welcome to my blog.


vishalbheeroo · May 21, 2014 at 8:08 am

haha!! Taka! Taka! That's a hilarious situation..lolz and so brilliantly narrated.

Sreeja Praveen · May 21, 2014 at 8:12 am

I am grinning wide as I picture the 'teen-you' behind the guard, holding a garbage bag while he goes looking for cabbages 😀 😀 Did you learn Swahili after that ? I'm sure Kenya must've been a special experience to cherish for a lifetime !!

Archana K B · May 21, 2014 at 8:22 am

lol..we all are laughing… though I knew where this was leading to… what is taka taka???

Rajlakshmi · May 21, 2014 at 8:29 am

hahaha Gabbage to cabbage 😀 what a mess up 😀 actually I was actually curled up in the darkest corner of my house out of utter embarassment 😛 will of course blog and laught about it once I am over it 🙂

Sneha Manchanda · May 21, 2014 at 9:51 am

Hahaha I tooo got scared while you walked behind him

Psych Babbler · May 21, 2014 at 10:30 am

Haha….lost in translation all right! 😀 As for embarrassing stories that make you want the ground beneath your feet give way, I have heaps. To the point where I've stopped caring now… 😛

Soumya · May 21, 2014 at 11:05 am

Taka-taka? Seriously? Hahahaha.

Thank you for sharing this! 🙂

Red Handed · May 21, 2014 at 11:38 am

This happens in india too u knw. My friend who only knows malayalam and english was interning in an office in Mumbai. She needed a folder to keep a few documents in and asked the errand boy for a folder. Now the errand boy only new hindi so he cocked his head and asked her to follow him…..and lead her to the LOO. He thought she wanted to go to the loo. 😀

Aparna · May 21, 2014 at 12:04 pm

A garbage story sooo many years back? You're obviously a gal after my own heart ;).

Vinodini Iyer · May 21, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Hahaha…this was hilarious! Taka taka…really??!! I'm sure you must have made sure you learnt atleast some basic words in Swahili after that incident 😉

Vidya Sury · May 21, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Hmm Taka-Taka eh? I like the sound of it!

Love the language mess ups!

debi o'neille · May 21, 2014 at 2:48 pm

Ha-ha! Too funny. Thanks for the laugh.

Debbie · May 21, 2014 at 2:50 pm

LOL That was quite an adventure! Always confusing when you don't know the language. I never would have guessed that Taka Taka translates to garbage.

psychochef · May 21, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Shailaja, this is a great story. It sounds like you've traveled a fair amount. I'll bet you have lots of fun and exciting tales to tell. Thanks for sharing this one, it made me laugh. Karen

Jen Brunett · May 21, 2014 at 3:14 pm

okay I know that this must have been utterly mortifying for you at the time but it's so funny !! You have told it so well!

whittlingharmony · May 21, 2014 at 4:33 pm

What struck me was how relatable it is to be following someone when you have no idea where they are leading you. We all do it sometimes, just praying that they are not leading us down a dark path. Well written, enjoyable read.

Kathy Combs · May 21, 2014 at 5:10 pm

WOW that language barrier must be something else! Makes for a funny story though. I enjoyed it!

Shailaja V · May 21, 2014 at 5:34 pm

So nice to see you laughing as well. I can too. 🙂

Shailaja V · May 21, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Kenya is an experience that is special for many reasons. Made some of my best connections there and the place itself was a beautiful paradise! I did learn a smattering of Swahili, though not enough, I regret to say.

Shailaja V · May 21, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Thanks for pointing that out. I have added the meaning in a footnote 🙂

Shailaja V · May 21, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Yes yes, please do 🙂 Save me from the solitary embarrassment routine!

Shailaja V · May 21, 2014 at 5:42 pm

I think I would be more scared now 😉

Shailaja V · May 21, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Share now, PB! I Order you to 😀

Shailaja V · May 21, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Oh yes! This was just the tip of the iceberg, I tell you 🙂 · May 21, 2014 at 6:25 pm

haha! well now i'm laughing too!!!

careymclaughlin · May 21, 2014 at 9:36 pm

I liked the voice of this piece as in the line “Okay, I know I am not supposed to go anywhere with strangers, but this was the security guard, right? So, throwing caution and a teeny bit of fear to the winds, I waltzed out the gate.” Fun humor. A great topic for a post–trusting in a stranger, experiencing a language barrier. Cabbage is a memorable prop.

Tom MacInnes · May 21, 2014 at 11:49 pm

Happy that it all ended with a chuckle. That could have been a dangerous situation for a young girl to find herself. You are lucky to have come out of it with only a good story. 🙂

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:48 am

Ewww.. wonder how she dealt with that one!

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:51 am

Ha ha ha. I never thought of it that way. Must be that cosmic connection we keep talking about 😉

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:52 am

Just a few. You know adolescence. We forget our resolutions a bit too quickly 😉

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:52 am

Now, I do love them. Especially pouncing on the unsuspecting ones 😉

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:53 am

Thank you for stopping by, Debbie 🙂

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:53 am

So you can't blame me for what happened, right? 😉

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:54 am

Always a pleasure to make people laugh, Karen. You being one of my favourite ones 🙂

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:55 am

Laugh away, Jen. I can laugh at it too, now 😉

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:55 am

You know, I never thought of it that way. How much we are instinctively born with trust. You can see that in children too. Thanks for opening up that line of thought 🙂

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:56 am

Yep Kathy. Managed to get past it though 😀

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:56 am

Stop rolling about and pick yourself up off the floor 😀

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:57 am

Thanks for that insightful comment, Carey. Cabbage as a prop. Now THERE's a great idea for a post!

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 3:57 am

Tell me about it. My mom freaked when she saw me leaving the gates and walk away for almost 30 minutes!

C.C. · May 22, 2014 at 4:44 am

Really enjoyed this story. Asante sana.

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 5:44 am

Asante sana for stopping by 🙂

tulika singh · May 22, 2014 at 7:49 am

Hence forty garbage in our home shall never be garbage.. It shall be called taka taka. What a poetic name for rubbish! On a serious note what a risk you took S! Did you get a dressing down from your mum? And by the way…. How far back were the teens?

Shailaja V · May 22, 2014 at 8:20 am

Risk yeah. I never really thought about it 😉 Mom had a panic attack and yes, I got the whole 'go off with strangers, will you?' talk! Teens were far, far, far back. No, you are not getting more out of me 😉

Natalie DeYoung · May 22, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Haha! This reminds me of the post I wrote last week, about how I couldn't remember the French word for “napkin.”

Joe · May 22, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Taka-taka, that will be my new command when I want my daughter to take the trash out.

Christine Hanolsy · May 22, 2014 at 6:48 pm

*hahaha* Your story cracked me up. I can remember working with a visitor from Kyrgyzstan who was staying with an American family. Her English was minimal. One day, she told her host mother that she needed to buy a goat to bring home with her. Host mom floundered a bit, and they went back and forth. “A goat? No, no goat.” “Da, yes, a goat!” The exchanged got more and more heated with wilder and wilder hand gestures and charades, until finally the Kyrgyz woman flounced off and grabbed a dictionary. Looking something up, she finally pointed to a word on the page. “Goat! Goat!” The host mom looked, and a light went on in her head. “OH! You want a COAT! That we can do.”

🙂 Great little story. You made me laugh, which is a great thing!

cynk · May 22, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Even though things were lost in translation, I think it's great that the guard took the time to walk you to the cabbage. Sure, that wasn't what you needed, but it showed a willingness to be helpful.

Bill Dameron · May 22, 2014 at 10:00 pm

A wonderful slice of life story. I have now learned a new word and love it taka-taka!

Linda Roy · May 23, 2014 at 12:39 am

So funny! Great story!

kathy berney · May 23, 2014 at 1:41 am

You had my heart beating faster…

Mina Menon · May 23, 2014 at 6:27 am

LOL Shailaja! Thts a story u will never forget no now neither wont we 😛

Shailaja V · May 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

Ok you can't just say that and not leave a link 😉 Now I have to trawl through your site using the word 'napkin'. That's just wrong 😀

Shailaja V · May 23, 2014 at 6:51 am

Well, don't be surprised if she doesn't get off the couch the first time 😉

Mahathi Ramya · May 23, 2014 at 6:58 am

ha haa funny experience.. Garbage and Cabbage, rhyming 🙂

Dr. Gauri Kekre · May 23, 2014 at 7:59 am

hahahahaha… taka taka!!! you know taka means throw away in Marathi. Now I am going to tell my kids to taka the taka taka! 😛 hilarious this was!!

Beloo Mehra · May 23, 2014 at 8:26 am

This was a fun read, Shailja! And what a great way to learn the new language. Trashy tale – the title is quite creative 🙂

Aishwarya · May 23, 2014 at 11:44 am

Oh this is too good!!

Swathi Shenoy · May 23, 2014 at 3:19 pm

lol taka taka 😀 well if i say that now, people here would think i am talking about dance steps 😀

Swathi Shenoy · May 23, 2014 at 3:20 pm

lol taka taka 😀 well if i say that now, people here would think i am talking about dance steps 😀

Shailaja V · May 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Oh now I am laughing so hard, Christine! This would make for a great episode for those sitcoms, eh? Thanks for sharing that funny story! · May 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

That was hilarious!
There are some words that have vastly different meanings in different Indian languages e.g. 'paal' means lizard in Marathi, but milk in Tamil.

Cathy Graham · May 25, 2014 at 12:09 pm

OMG! You must have been mortified at the time. Teens always see everything as so exaggerated and embarrassing. Makes for a very funny story years later though. I enjoyed it.

Corinne Rodrigues · May 27, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Oh what fun! I wonder what the Swahili word for cabbage is though!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.