The art of translation

Bill and his brother Igey may have been in the US only a year and a half, and they may be only 9 and 8, but they often wind up interpreting for their parents in situations beyond their years. Usually they do this with good grace - Igey, especially, seems flattered to be asked - and they come up with good words: "sudden," or "missing."

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Bill and his brother Igey may have been in the US only a year and a half, and they may be only 9 and 8, but they often wind up interpreting for their parents in situations beyond their years. Usually they do this with good grace - Igey, especially, seems flattered to be asked - and they come up with good words: "sudden," or "missing."

But one day, Igey balked when his mom, Dawami, asked him in Swahili to explain to me why she'd hated their refugee camp. She's struggling to learn English, and she managed to explain the food shortages and the endless waiting - but there was something else I couldn't make out. She tried the glossary of my Swahili phrasebook. Nothing.

Finally, she called Igey, who rolled his eyes and flatly refused to translate. His mom insisted. He stuck out his tongue and shook his head. Finally, Dawami prevailed, and Igey squeaked out: "We lived by the houses of sin!"

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