- Posted by Martina Lunardelli
- On 21/06/2017
- 0 Comments
Sometimes life offers unexpected paths: don’t be afraid of taking your risks and grow.
Interpreters are famous for being “super-humans”, or kind of.
Our job is to listen to a speaker’s speech, understand it, and translate it into another language, sometimes in less than no time. Apart of the usual details everybody should know (there are mainly two kinds of interpreting methods, for instance: simultaneous interpreting and consecutive interpreting), people may think our job always takes place in fashionable, comfortable and fancy venues like conference rooms, courts, meetings. The truth is that we often need to travel and to deal with situations that are definitely out of our comfort zones.
At times, us interpreters find ourselves in places that are not always comfortable and relax-friendly. There are assignments that take place in perilous contexts and countries.
What follows is my personal/professional experience in dangerous countries and the important aspects of accepting this kind of assignments (if you feel you can deal with them).
I travelled to Libya, Algeria (twice) and Iraq, where I worked as an interpreter, of course.
Like many interpreters who travel for work with their clients, my tasks were “a classic” for interpreters: follow the client into meetings with prospect local clients and conveying oral messages in the best way possible. The meetings were always focused on business, on future cooperations and on how to create leads. Nevertheless, many times, and given the fact that we were having dinner – so the context was switched into a less formal situation – the topics were more culturally-focused: this was a great chance to get to know different perspectives and points of view.
What immediately struck me about Libya was the culture: deeply rooted in ancient past, soaked with Gaddafi’s ruling (he was still ruling, his presence omnipresent on billboards around Tripoli), filled with more modern architecture going hand in hand with old bazaars. Difficult situations? Yes: dealing with different cultures and habits, which I am not saying are better than one another, just different. Culture is a paramount aspect of our job, we need to be prepared to discrepancies we need to be conscious of: one of these aspects is the hard times business woman can experience when working on these countries. Being a blonde, European woman in countries with rigorous cultural and religious perspectives towards women, it was often arduous to work and concentrate.
Algeria: definitely more modern than Libya, Algiers is a pretty city and is more European in some ways. Same client, same cultural differences and peculiarities.
Iraq: one of the most fascinating and charismatic countries I have ever worked in/seen.
Erbil (Kurdistan region) is an amazing city: its Citadel is one of the oldest fortified cities in the world and inscribed on the World Heritage List since 2014, and is the world’s longest continuously-occupied site (8,000 years old). I worked also in Kirkuk and Suleimaniah. Difficult aspect for an interpreter: stress. You find yourself interpreting amidst tanks, among people constantly shouldering kalashnikovs or carrying their guns in their pockets, in the middle of the Iraqi desert (which, by the way, is one of the most breath-taking place to be, apart from the war, of course). This makes it harder to stay cool and concentrated all the time, you need more breaks to drink (temperatures are far beyond 40 degrees Celsius) and to rest. On top of that, you can really feel the war in the air, you can still feel Saddam Hussein’s presence (and I am not talking solely of his physical headquarters ruins, still towering the deserts). Iraq was one of the most interesting and professional forming experiences I have ever had in my life: the special need of focusing, of being respectful and kind to the locals, who are welcoming and very smiley, was amplified by the delicate situation of not working in a “safe” environment (this also involved an impromptu overnight stay at the house of a local, sleeping on a camp bed and sharing habits with the family, a member of which was a combatant of the Kurdish army, covered in scars and weapons).
To wrap up, I have always loved my job and every single assignment is a treasure and an occasion to grow professionally and personally. I feel very lucky to be an interpreter and have never wanted to do something else. Working on dangerous grounds helps me focus more on my skills and abilities, to offer the best solution to my clients.
Here a couple of pictures of my Iraqi experience, and if you want to know more about the emotional aspects of this, you can check out my CNN iReports channel, the article was featured by CNN in 2012.
Suleimaniah mountains at sunset
Respect for local culture
Tanks, the war was not over
Saddam Hussein’s headquarters, ruins