Dawami’s long road

"What would you like to do?" Lystra Cupid asked. "What do you have skills for?"

"I like clothes," Dawami answered. "I like to sell."

[Today's blog is by Monitor correspondent Lee Lawrence.]

"What would you like to do?" Lystra Cupid asked. "What do you have skills for?"

"I like clothes," Dawami answered. "I like to sell."

"So you want to buy clothes and sell them?" Lystra asked.

Dawami nodded.

"American clothes or traditional?"

"From back home," Dawami said.

Dawami and Lystra were sitting next to each other in the conference room of the Refugee Women's Network, a non-profit group in Decatur that helps women become independent and self-sufficient. Lystra followed each question with a smile as she tried to help Dawami identify areas in which the Network might help her jump-start a small business with a micro loan.

When it came time to sum up, though, Dawami and Lystra hit a wall. Lystra explained that if she, say, wanted to import clothes from Tanzania to sell here, she would be better off starting small. She would need to figure out whom would she trust to send them to her from home, who in Atlanta might want to buy them, and whether there were events coming up where she could sell them. The Network might then issue her a small loan - on the order of $250 to $500 - as long as she had someone who could co-sign. The Network itself regularly took booths at events around town and could let her know.

Lystra glanced at the form Dawami had filled out. "You don't have an e-mail, so we would have to call," she said.

As Lystra spoke, Dawami looked on, uncomprehending. Dawami had pulled out a Swahili phrase book, but it was nowhere near up to the task.

A cell phone, however, might do the trick. My friend Beatrice Kibera, a Kenyan fluent in Swahili and English, had translated for us once before. I dialed her number and for the next 15 minutes, Lystra and Dawami passed the cell phone to one another while Beatrice, on the other side of Atlanta, bridged their language gap.

Before we left, Dawami told Lystra through Beatrice that she would do her homework. She had already mentioned having signed up for free English classes offered by the county.

But as we left the Network's offices and walked across the parking lot, Dawami looked at me, puzzled. "Why need e-mail?" she asked.

I repeated something Lystra had pointed out earlier: that many employers only accept electronic applications. "I don't know computer," Dawami said. "You teach me."

I couldn't help but feel that, after traveling half-way around the world, Dawami still has to travel a long road and bridge many a gap.

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