by Brede Eschliman, Diocese of Connecticut
The best part of my day (other than the meeting the presiding bishop, which was incredible) was an unexpected conversation. We had a debriefing and dinner with Ecumenical Women, and we were supposed to discuss advocacy points in small groups while eating. The small group I was in was not gelling at all. People didn’t really want to talk, and the discussions that did happen seemed very forced. After it became clear that we weren’t going to have a conversation as a group, everyone struck up personal conversations with their friends instead. I introduced myself to a woman who hadn’t talked the entire time and looked really bored, and it quickly turned into an amazing conversation. The woman, whose name is Grace, teaches at a university in Tanzania and had been to the CSW before. She told me a lot of really interesting things about Tanzania—I had to resist the temptation to pull out a notebook and pen. One of the most intriguing things she told me was that, in her opinion, using Swahili rather than English to conduct governmental affairs may hurt Tanzania. As a developing country, Tanzania receives assistance from other countries, many of which use English. She thought that the language barrier between Tanzania and the countries supporting it prevented Tanzanians from fully utilizing the resources offered. She suggested that Tanzania should emphasize English until it is more developed, then return to Swahili.
The content of the conversation was not what made it so wonderful, though. I really felt like I connected with Grace and was genuinely engaged in the conversation rather than making small talk. There was one point when she mentioned the difficulty rural children have learning English when their parents don’t speak English at home. I mentioned I had the same difficulty with Spanish, and she laughed and shook my hand in a gesture of understanding. We laughed a lot. The best part of the conversation was when she taught me some Swahili. When I lived in South Africa last summer, my favorite part of the Anglican services was always the exchange of the peace in three different languages (isiXhosa, English, and Afrikaans). Grace taught me to say “peace be with you” in Swahili too: Amani iwe nawe. We said that to each other when we left the debriefing later that night, and it was one of the most genuine and joyous exchanges of peace I have ever shared.