"To have another language is to possess a second soul" Charlemagne
This morning I read an article in the New York Times about The Beauty of Being Bilingual. While my journey is different than the author of that great article, I still recognize and resonate with several of the key themes about speaking multiple languages. And, while there are so many quotes about languages, I think the quote by Rita Mae Brown sums it up really well "Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going". And, also the quote by Frank Smith who said "One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way".
It's simply beautiful to know multiple languages. It enriches our understanding of cultures, traditions and people. But, most importantly it gives us patience and a better way to communicate, recognizing there are so many ways to say something and also an ability to fill in the blank when someone is missing a word. This ability helps me quite a bit, not only as a professor who teaches many international students but also as a social entrepreneur who interacts with many women from different backgrounds. Also, our Tugende Design team in Jinja for example, speak many different languages but have found ways to communicate and support each other in creative ways.
When I first moved to the U.S. for college, it took a lot of effort to improve my English and it was very frustrating to do the basic things because of language barriers. Simply ordering a hamburger and asking for cucumbers was met with much confusion. Even pointing to the ”pickles” across the counter did not seem to help, just because the person behind the counter didn't think of pickled cucumbers as ”cucumbers" and only knew them as pickles. Small example perhaps, but those of us who are not native English speakers can probably add a long list of those encounters and frustrations.
As I was thinking about it over lunch, I realized most of my friends are also bilingual, even trilingual and likely understand or speak more than just a few words in several additional languages. Perhaps this is the case because so many of my friends are Europeans and Africans where the value and necessity of speaking more languages are so clear. In contrast, my friends and colleagues that are born and raised in the U.S. are less likely to speak multiple languages and generally express less of a curiosity or interest in learning another language. Not a new observation, but an interesting cultural development of a country founded by immigrants.
In my own home here in the U.S., there was a time when we've had multiple languages spoken as my sons were studying Spanish and German in school and I was learning Spanish just for fun. That was of course in addition to me speaking Swedish to my sons when they were young, and English with everyone else. Now I'm learning Luganda, a local language spoken in Uganda. I have come to realize that it's really important for me to know more of the language, even though most people speak English, because of my research and projects and to know the culture better.
If you really think about it, the beauty of speaking more than just one language is more than knowing what to say, or how to say it. When you learn to truly speak another language, you will be much closer to understanding the cultural, traditions and daily practices.
It wasn’t until I started learning Luganda, that I finally understood why it had been so hard for me to order my local food in Kampala (whether in English or Luganda). Turns out that the locals refer to their protein (e.g. chicken, goat, fish) as served in sauce. So when I wanted to order only the ”sauce” with no protein (in places where I was not sure about the quality of the meat), there was mass confusion. Of course this was confusing to the staff because they had no idea what to do. It didn’t occur to them that I just wanted the ”gravy” or ”broth” on my potatoes or rice. It’s just another simple example, but it highlights how it is much easier to navigate an environment when you know the language.
Another issue I’ve been thinking about is how every day expressions are stated in different languages. In English we ”make” a decision but in Swedish we ”take” a decision. I'm often pondering if these variations in expressions signify cultural differences in interpersonal interactions and underlying values. I'm sure people who study languages or linguistics may have something to say about that.
But, on a different note, it was my love for the word Tugende, meaning Let's Go in Luganda that was the foundation for our social enterprise, named Tugende Design. Tugende is such a strong and powerful word. And, it exists in several African languages although pronounced differently in Swahili (spoken in Tanzania and across many African countries) and in Kinyarwanda in Rwanda.
Our mission for Tugende Design, is to go, to make a difference, to serve and to uplift the people that need us. We're starting in Uganda and we support 5 teams of women. These women live in grave poverty and face many hardships but they are also incredibly talented and make beautiful handmade jewelry, bags and crafts that we sell in our online shop Tugende Design, on amazon handmade (with Prime Shipping) and in the local handmade art coop in Atlanta called the Beehive.
So, whether you take or make a decision -Tugende! Let's go and make a difference!
Last Friday, one of my colleagues described me as a positive "force" and that it was impossible to keep up with me. Of course, I don't think of myself that way, but I do know I am very passionate and hard working. I often get asked where I get my energy from. Although, it isn't something I ponder, I suspect it's because I'm very happy about my work and know that it fuels me every day. And, maybe that happy energy comes from helping others. As Jenny Santi wrote for the Time "The Secret to Happiness is Helping Others".
Whether as a professor, researcher or social entrepreneur, I pride myself on supporting others, mentoring my students and anyone really who wants my help, time permitting. But, of all the things that I do, my work with Tugende Design is among the most rewarding. And, that is all about helping communities in need. These communities face such hardships, and most of the mothers just want to put food on the table and be able to send their children to school. It is so simple, yet complex and heart breaking, they just want the basic necessities for themselves and their families.
We work together with 5 groups of women in Kampala and Jinja, Uganda to make beautiful jewelry out of paper beads. Maybe it seems a bit odd, or even crazy. But, that is the story. Together, we design and create beautiful pieces, wearable art really, from almost nothing. There is tremendous power in coming together for a shared vision, a vision of women empowerment. A vision of supporting women who are strong, powerful, full of love, creativity and resilience, but poor financially. This is a vision that transcends cultures, boundaries and languages.
At Tugende Design we are impatient, our goal is to provide the basics for these women and the sooner, the better. Tugende means ”let’s go” in one of the local languages in Uganda. Let's go, let's make a difference and help people in need.
The women in our groups face tremendous hardships, poverty, infectious and chronic diseases and often, they are also single mothers. Some of them distill illegal alcohol, a dangerous job that often result in injuries because of the hazardous conditions. Yet, despite their hardships they find the peace to create and make beautiful jewelry.
Making jewelry from paper beads take time and patience. The paper strips are cut into thin strips and in different shapes depending on the size bead to be made. Then the paper strips are rolled tightly, making sure there is a hole for the string. The beads are varnished 5 times to ensure their durability. Then, finally, there is the creative process of stringing the beads together in various designs, some simple and some quite intricate to make earrings, bracelets, necklaces and bags. It takes incredible talent at each step of the process.
Before I started working in Uganda, I had never heard of paper beads. Now, I see paper beads made all over the world. But, the talented women we work with as part of Tugende Design work with us to come up with really colorful and unique designs for women empowered to wear paper beads. And, in our case, the sales of the paper beads support the women and their families and our community projects.
I wear my pieces of jewelry with great pride because they are beautiful, unique and colorful and they also represent hope, possibilities and women empowerment. So wearing these pieces fuel me with joy every day.
”Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again and you will be filled with joy” Buddha
- Buying a set of new and much larger underwear should be a high priority; it makes life so much easier and less is better (do I really need to explain this?)
- Writing on a keyboard is so much slower using only 1 hand (seriously, painfully slow)
- Accept that you will miss lots of deadlines (for those of us who are type-As, this is terribly stressful)
- Surrender to ordering takeout food (yes, you will gain weight, it’s expensive, but, there are also no dishes to clean)
- If you have a hard time putting on that favorite dress, there is no way you will get out of it on your own (don’t get stuck, especially when you are home alone)
- Makeup is tricky, may be best to go without it (that mascara smudge ended up looking like I had a black eye, not a great look, especially with a broken arm)
- Everyone will ask you how you broke the arm, strangers, colleagues and doctors, and all will seem disappointed if you only have a boring story to tell (my version of tripping while hiking in the woods was way too mediocre. I should have gone skydiving or trained elephants or something a bit more exciting)
- Enjoy public transportation/being driven to work (I could really get used to this which may have been the best part of my week, skipping rush hour in Atlanta and getting to know lots of Uber drivers)
- If you need a man to get you some pads or tampons, send him a picture of what you want (however willing he may be, chances are he will get lost with the many unfamiliar options, styles and types)
- Find a TV series with several seasons to watch (I hate to waste that much time, but it helps to rest and get into something)
- Get used to asking for help (very tough for those of us who usually don’t)
- Make sure the lid to the pain pills have been removed (and that also goes for all the jars and tubes, think shampoo and tooth paste too)
- If you have kids, make sure you have taught at least one of them to cook a meal you would enjoy eating
- Stay grateful for all the good things, health & happiness!
- And, know that everything will get better, especially if you have a sense of humor and can find a reason to smile.