On the road: Prismatic Translation’s Swahili workshop

Road in Africa
Eleni Philippou

Swahili is spoken by up to 100 million people worldwide. The language is mostly spread across the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa. Surprisingly though, I experienced Swahili first-hand not in Africa (my home continent), but rather as a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in a classroom at Oxford Spires Academy in England in April 2018.

Oxford Spires Academy hosted two creative writing workshops for its Swahili-speaking pupils under the stewardship of Azfa Awad, herself a former pupil at the school. Azfa is an award-winning poet, currently studying at Warwick University. She was also the first Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry. Fluent in both Swahili and English, not to mention Swanglish (a mixture of the two tongues), Azfa was perfectly positioned to encourage the pupils to write poetry in Swahili. The poems that were generated in the workshops by the pupils were surprising, moving, and heartfelt. The poems posted below are a product of those workshops.

I was particularly struck by the resonance of the image of a road that opens many of the workshopped poems. This image, from one of Azfa’s writing prompts, is an apt motif for poems written in one language, and translated into another, by children who traverse languages or exist in polyglottal spaces. In fact, it is this movement between languages – the creativity attached to translation – that is at the very core of the Prismatic Translation research strand of the AHRC-funded Creative Multilingualism initiative. Prismatic Translation asks poets and translators to visit Oxford Spires Academy and allow schoolchildren to use different languages to write creatively. It acknowledges that languages and words journey, move, change, travel: they are on the road.

Some poems (with translations) written during the workshop:



Chini yangu kuna barabara ya jivu,

Ndefu na ngumu.

Mbele yangu kuna alama,

Inanifanya nihisi salama.

Ingeweza kuongea na mimi,

Ingeniambia ninaenda njia sahihi.

Na kwa marudio yangu, ingenipa tumaini.


The Sign

A rough grey road stretches out beneath me.

In front of me there is a sign

that makes me feel safe.

If only it could speak to me –

it would let me know if

I’m going the right way,

and give me hope

of reaching my destination.




Mpenzi Wangu

Rangi ya ramani ni nyekundu

Nikigusa nahisi nguvu.

Mbele yangu kuna mwanamke mzuri.

Ananifanya nifurahi, kupitia maelezo.

Kama angeweza kuongea na mimi

Ange uliza ‘wewe ni nani?’

Ananikumbusha mpenzi wangu wa zamani,

Yule aliyekufa,

Natamani ange rudi nyumbani,

Awe pamoja nami.


My Lover

The colour of my road is red.

When I touch it,

I am overcome with strength.

There is a beautiful girl

in front of me.

She makes me happy,

more than words could express.

If she could speak to me now,

she would ask, ‘Who are you?’

She reminds me of my ex,

the one that passed away.

I wish she could return home,

to be with me again.





Ramani ya jivu,

Nyota ni almasi,

Mwezi unaangaza.

Nakupenda milele.



The road is grey.

The stars are diamonds.

The moon is shining.

I love you forevermore.




Eleni Philippou is a Post-doctoral Researcher on Creative Multilingualism's 6th strand: Prismatic Translation.


Where next?

Multilingual poetry workshops with the London Centre for Languages & Cultures

How I produced my first ever (multilingual) school play

Multilingual concert: We are Children of the World