One thing that can confuse a lot of people is how people in East Africa tell time, particularly in Tanzania.
This is because if you want to say 2 o’clock in the afternoon, that is actually 8 o’clock in Swahili time.
Let me explain.
The difference between western time and Swahili time
In Swahili, the day does not start at midnight.
In fact, when you think about, starting a day at midnight is kind of odd, isn’t it?
Why would the day begin in the middle of the night when everyone is sleeping?
One thing you’ll notice in Tanzania is people are far more in touch with nature and their surroundings.
Therefore, it only makes sense that the day would start when nature starts, right?
This is why in Tanzania, the day starts when the sun rises.
And almost throughout the year, the sun rises at 6 a.m.
Therefore to them 6 a.m. is the beginning hour of the day, or 0000.
7 a.m. is their 1 o’clock, or 0100.
9 a.m. is their 3 o’clock, or 0300.
12 p.m. is their 6 o’clock, or 0600.
Basically, whenever you want to say a time in Swahili, you need to minus six hours from the English time.
If you wake up at 7 a.m., in Tanzania you are actually waking up at 1 a.m., and so on.
Confusing? You’ll get used to it!
How to tell the time in Swahili
Before you can tell the time in Swahili, you’re going to need to learn your numbers. You can do that in our numbers article. Head over there now by clicking this link, and come on back when you can count to twelve.
In Swahili, the time is said using the word saa, which means hour.
To ask what the time is, you simply say Una saa? which literally translates to Do you have hours?
If the time is 1 o’clock, they will then respond with Ni saa moja, which literally translates to It is hour one.
If you are making plans, you can use the phrase Saa ngapi? which means What time? (literal translation how many hours?)
For example, you could say Tutakula saa ngapi? which means What time will we eat?
If the plan is to eat at 7 p.m. (1 p.m. in Swahili time) the response will be Tutakula saa moja (we will eat at 1).
Not too hard, right?
See you at sunrise!