Meet-up with Deogratias Simba, a Tanzanian word lover

Thanks to a secret algorithm, elaborated by Georgia Popplewell, in an hidden room, somewhere in the Caribbean, I’ll soon share (among two hundred people) 4 days of my life with Deogratias M. Simba, a translator of Global Voices in Swahili.

To be honest, the first piece I’ve ever read in Swahili language was one of my own posts on Global Voices. Coincidentally, Deogratias, or Deo as he introduced himself to me, did translate another one of mine recently. In brief, it's a language I don’t know much about, a stranger I’ll meet in a few days, that was enough to inspire curiosity to learn more about him.

Here is an interview with Deo I want to share with all of you.

Deogratias SimbaDeo, would you introduce yourself?

I am a Tanzanian national living and working in Tanzania. Currently, I am an editor working with Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, an indigenous publishing house in Tanzania. I am also a freelance translator (English-Swahili/Swahili-English). I am a blogger – – blogging on social political issues and affairs. Well, I like taking photographs of the different places I visit. Some of the photos I take appear on my blog as posts. I have written several books – some story books for children and textbooks. I translated a book by Naguib Mahfouz, renowned Egyptian play writ and novelist – the book was titled The Search in English and in Swahili it is titled Msako. Well, I have a passion for the written word, I just love words.

How did you come to work for the book industry?

Well, after college education, I ventured into teaching. In the process of teaching I compiled the teaching notes that I provided my students with into a manuscript. It was while in the process of searching for a publisher that I was introduced to owner of Mkuki na Nyota Publishers. After having read my manuscript he offered me an opportunity to learn about book publishing and especially how to become a book editor. I accepted – that was how I joined this publishing house and have been here for close to 10 years now. Even before that – immediately after high school – I translated a book on religious issues from English to Swahili – it is not yet published because when I then contacted the publisher and authors – they said that a translation had already been done – although I'm yet to see one. It has been more than 15 years. I normally read books to obtain knowledge about different things: culture, art, news, society, people, science, politics, economics, places etc.

How did you hear about GVO? Why did you decide to volunteer?

Well, it was way back in 2006 when I was reading a local newspaper, and there, I found an article about a pioneer of Tanzanian bloggers, Ndesanjo Macha (GVO's Sub-Saharan Africa editor). I got interested. I started blogging. I started learning more about Global Voices Online. And when the GVO Swahili Lingua editor, Joe Tungaraza, contacted me to volunteer as a translator, I did not hesitate. Volunteering is a spirit that I have embraced ever since I was very young. In 1999 I was a founder member of Tanzania Volunteers Services Movement. I think this spirit stems from my belief that money is not everything – rather we need one another to keep things moving and making our world a better place to live.

What do you expect from Global Voices?

Well, I expect to see GVO becoming the mouthpiece of the common person. To voice the millions of voices into as many languages as possible of those voices that have no place in the mainstream media. I also expected to grow: socially, mentally and spiritually, and I keep experiencing this growth each time I read/translate an article from GV page.

Would you tell me more about your Swahili Lingua experience? How do you choose the posts you want to translate?

My experience with Swahili Lingua has been very touching, in the sense that, I find that through this site – I read about things that also happen in and around our communities here. What other people in far away countries and continents experience are more or less what we experience here as well. And, this sets the basis of my choice of stories that I translate from English Lingua into Swahili – stories that I think are relevant to our communities – though in fact almost all are relevant – so it's not always easy to make a choice.

According to you, what's the future of Swahili Lingua?

The future of Swahili Lingua is a great one. I believe that over time it is going to grow and cover more interesting stories from around the world and originate others from local communities in the Swahili speaking zone that covers East Africa and beyond. I'm very optimistic that translators and authors from around this area will grow in number.

Have you already met people from GVO/Lingua?

To tell the truth, no. Not even with Ndesanjo Macha and Joe Tungaraza. The Swahili Lingua team is scattered – I'm based in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Christian is based in Moshi (northern town in Tanzania), Mdoti is based in Morogoro (Tanzania), Joe Tungaraza is based in Australia and Ndesanjo Macha in the US. We speak over the phone and communicate over the Internet but we have not met physically.

In a few days, you will participate to GV Summit 2010. What are your expectations?

Well, for me the GV 2010 Summit is a great event in my life. I never thought of traveling to South America, to begin with. I have shortly visited Europe (UK), North Africa (Egypt), Asia (India) and East Africa. So, I harbour many expectations – the biggest being: to put faces to names (or names to faces) of authors and translators whose works I read and/or work on through GV. It is going to be a moment of experiencing growth – spiritually, mentally and of course physically (eating food and drinking water from another continent – joke). So, I am looking forward to this great moment of meeting people with whom we share the passion of using the power of the word to express ordinary peoples’ stories.

Subsidiary question for a word lover: which word in Swahili do you prefer/hate and why?

Well, well, this is a trickier question. May be I will concentrate on a Swahili expression that I don't like (hate). This is ‘Bahati Mbaya‘, literally meaning ‘bad luck’. I don't like this expression – because I think that it is being used most of the time to give people excuses for doing things in a manner they should not have. I believe in ‘people making their own choices for whatever they do’ – so most of the time what we do stem from pure intention or when outcomes are not good it is mostly because we were not careful enough.

The word I like, ‘Naweza‘ – literally meaning ‘Yes, I can’. And, ‘Yes, through GVO’ we can help bring positive change around the world. The reason is there is no reason why one should not be able to do something he/she wants to do. Naweza. Tunaweza. Unaweza. I can. We can. You can.

Asante sana Deo (‘Thank you very much’).


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