My first impulse when I got the letter from my Women for Women sister last night was to smell the paper. Not the top page that you see above – which is a form the translator filled out – but the actual page that Odette wrote on in her own language.

All I could think was that this paper was marked on in Africa, in D.R. Congo. Someone sat down and wrote a letter to me. Spelled my name; mine. I saw it right there on the page. And I smelled the page instinctually – like some subconscious and feeble attempt to see where the letter came from – to go there. To go to Africa. To visit this person who had written my name and imagined me.

This morning I woke up and began my reply to Odette. I studied her words and compared them to the English translation. I figured out from typing random selections into google that she speaks Swahili – or in Swahili, it’s Kiswahili. I learned that “dada mpenzi” means “dear sister”. And I noticed something strange. Odette used the term “dada mpenzi” twice, but the translator only included it once. I think, in my mere hours-long experience studying this language, that perhaps she might have been more affectionate than the translator let on. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.

I took a break from typing her words into the Swahili-English Free Translation website (vita = war; hakuna maji = no water; askari = soldier) to heat up a sandwich. We ordered Brazilian food last night. My favorite sandwich from this place is “The Havana” – it’s caramelized bananas, melted monterey jack cheese, Mascarpone cheese, with a touch of cinnamon stuffed into thick toasted bread. When the microwave beeped, I pulled the plate out with this warm, amazingly delicious meal waiting, and I thought, this is magic.

Thirty seconds ago, this was cold. Now it’s warm.

Odette’s letter ends with the words, “Mungu (God) will reward your deeds.”

Mungu already has, he/she/it already has.

Thank you, my dada mpenzi Odette, thank you.


5 thoughts on “dada=sister

  1. Ruth,

    I’m always fascinated by the programs that you become involved with. This one is outstanding. Congo and Rwanda are on the list of possible next assignments for us! As soon as we get settled in our new place I am going to become a sponsor. I’m off to learn more about Women for Women.


  2. Jenn,
    If you get placed in Congo or Rwanda . . . WOW . . . that’s peacekeeping that speaks to my heart. I’m so glad we’re in touch so that I can learn from your experiences.

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