It’s our dada’s first day of work here today. Family relations took me a couple tries to get right here in Swahili. Easy: Mother is mama. Medium: Brother is kaka. (Yep.) Hard: Sister is dada and father is baba.
I may have called a few old men ‘sister’ once or twice. But honestly, only once or twice.
All of these are also informal forms of address. When I grab lunch, I greet, ‘Shikamoo, mama.’ On the street, people call after me with dada. (They’d greet me as mama if they thought that I had had a child.) The people who frequent my breakfast spot call me dada Lulu, since they know my name.*
Dada is also a term for maid, more or less. Everyone I know here has a dada: a woman who comes a few times of week to do the dishes; do laundry; iron; dust, sweep, mop and otherwise fight entropy against the red dirt that blows in on the wind incessantly; clean the bathrooms; perhaps go grocery shopping, make beans and rice to eat later, or cut up a mango and coconut for a snack.
Our dada’s name is Adija, and she’s been working around the house all morning. She’s taught me some Swahili, and she’s taught me my new favourite way to dust: fold up a towel and beat whatever’s dirty with it. Brilliant. And my window panes are now gleaming.
Next steps are to convince her to go fruit shopping for us so that I can start my day with a salad of ripe mango, banana, watermelon, and avocado…
*Meaghan is not an easy thing to pronounce in Swahili, and Lulu is better than being called Morgan or May. Lulu means pearl, like Margarita, from where Meaghan meanderingly derives. It’s the name that I choose in every language (see also: Margarita, פנינה, İnji…).
Plus in Swahili, where words more often than not mean more than one thing, aspiring gentlemen will take the time to remind me that Lulu also means precious, something to be cherished, something very nice. Obviously.