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.