Beans & Rice for the Soul

teaching, learning and living around the world

The day I die, who will cry for me?

In school we spend time singing at least three times a week.  Some songs we sing as a whole class, but the part I love the most is when each student has to stand in front of the class, alone, and belt out a song from memory. Like everywhere else in the world, some kids are more shy than others, and some kids are better singers than others.  But everyone has to at least PIMA! Try!

Back before I had a decent handle on Swahili, I would sing along to songs without having any clue what they were about.  There was one song in particular that I loved, because every other line you got to pick someone’s name to say.  It sounded so happy and positive, giving shout outs to all the people in the room.  The song goes like this:

Siku ndakufa nani atanilia
Siku ndakufa (insert a friend’s name here) atanilia
Ohh, le le le liii le, liii le, li le le le
Le le le liii le, liii le, li le le le

Then, I took the lyrics to my Swahili teacher and I nearly fell on the floor when he told me the translation:

The day I die, who will cry for me?
The day I die, (my friend) will cry for me!

My GOSH, I thought, this is a terrible and depressing song!! Why on earth do they sound so excited and positive?!!  And why on earth are we singing this for the closing of our Peace Day performance??! Isn’t talking about death pretty much the OPPOSITE of peace?  War leads to death, and peace leads to happy and healthy lives… What would the audience think of us  singing a song like this for PEACE day?!

It honestly took me several weeks of contemplating to realize… this IS a great song. And it IS happy and positive and absoLUTEly about peace.

Death isn’t negative, and neither is mourning. Death is about moving on… to a more peaceful place.  Having friends and family, who will mourn your death… is a beautiful thing… Having people who love you, who will care and notice when you leave this world… IS something to be celebrated.

Initially my cultural interpretation was that the song was hopelessly repeating, “We’re all gonna die, we’re all gonna die.”  But now I realize it’s more like expressing, “I am loved, I am loved.” And death isn’t the opposite of peace, it’s about moving closer toward peace.

I’ve never really understood why you can’t just do word-for-word translations of things. I never knew how much culture mattered, how much it influences our understanding of language, life, the world… Additionally this was among many friendly reminders that I am an American through and through, full of American attitudes… and still have much to learn about living and teaching in Congo.

Needless to say that in the end, this was the perfect song for Peace Day.

Siku ndakufa, I hope many people watanilia.
And I hope the same for you!!


5 comments on “The day I die, who will cry for me?

  1. John Searles
    November 8, 2010

    Great Stuff Sara Rich. Always like reading this. Just sayin..

  2. Lonnie Rich
    November 8, 2010

    Ninapenda kuandika yangu. Nitapatiya Ben Boswell, nani atapenda pia.

  3. Irene
    November 8, 2010

    Love this post! I will see you in Goma this year.

  4. Mom
    November 8, 2010


  5. Marcia
    November 8, 2010

    Sara — What a beautiful statement. Thank you for sharing it with us. We can’t wait to be there in December. Keep those home fires burning. Tutaonana! — Marcia

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This entry was posted on November 8, 2010 by in humanities, teaching, travel.
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