Continuation of “Freudian Tales” posted on October 24, 2013
Arriving at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, to Judge Rubin’s courtroom promptly at 8:15 a.m. Friday morning, Harry introduced himself to Lia, the new interpreter, originally from Madrid, more recently from Salt Lake City, with whom he would be working the weeklong Santeria trial. In a gesture of bonhomie calculated to put her off guard, he offered to go first, knowing full well that the thorny terminology would not crop up until after the voir dire and opening statement, when they started taking testimony from the Olorisha priest and his Cuban clients. Harry was basically going to throw her under the truck. He intuited she definitely had not had time to review any of the prior proceedings in the case to create a glossary. He was just going to subtly but relentlessly point out flaws, offering the least assistance he could get away with, without getting called out for it. He felt all new interpreters in his court needed to undergo their trial by fire, and it was his self-designated job to preside over that event, having been there over 30 years. The torture started on schedule when the black, exotically robed cleric started to intone in thickly accented Spanish that the defendant aleyo had been advised to undergo una rogación de cabeza and given an achó to take to the bembé where it would be performed, only a day before the homicide took place. Lia, did what she could with this, translating as above, without having the slightest clue as to whether these words actually had a translation or what they even meant. Preening like a peacock, Harry shook his head ominously and whispered in a very audible tone, “aleyo means outsider, bembé is a ceremony, etc.” Of course this only served to make her more nervous as the proper protocol was that he write these terms down for her and she could correct the record, if needed, subsequently. You could see that the judge, the members of the jury and some of the santeros sitting in the audience were beginning to be concerned that they might not be fully understanding what was being said. And so the morning dragged on. In reality things were not as bad as they seemed to Lia, but to be faced with this challenge and an adversarial colleague on her first day at work in a new city was enough to unsettle anyone. The lunch break did not make things any better, to the contrary. When she slinked into her office, she found a rubber chicken lying on top of her computer. She had no idea of the significance or provenance of the item and suspected it was a joke, until the janitor stopped by to empty her wastebasket. When he saw the chicken, his eyes widened, his gaze went from the chicken, to her and then towards the direction of the courtroom where she had been working. He quickly blessed himself and looked at her intently, unsure as to whether he should say anything or not. This was not lost on Lia who quickly asked him what was going on, and was told that in voodoo, when someone wants to do a number on you, they grace you with a dead chicken or pigeon. It was 1:45 and she had to be back in the courtroom and in her seat, ready to go at 2:00, so there was no time to ruminate about this latest incident. As she slipped into her seat, the judge came out of chambers and announced that the trial would be postponed until the following work day because he had an emergency to attend to. Keeping a straight face, Lia breathed an inner sigh of relief, while Harry was chagrined that his plan for the first day had gone awry. He had been sadistically looking forward to upping the ante in the afternoon before she had a chance to regain her composure over the weekend. Shaking inside, Lia did not say anything to anyone about the chicken episode so as not to draw attention to herself. She used the rest of the afternoon to read whatever scanty information was available on her work computer about the case, then went home to get the guest bedroom ready for her old friend that was flying in that evening, while she started tossing possibilities around in her head.
Antonio Garrido, the ex-boyfriend of Ana, the conference interpreter we met last time, is boarding a flight at Barajas, to go visit his friend Lia Quesada, who has just moved to Miami. Antonio is an ex-federal agent from the US, who moved to Madrid upon retirement and is doing odd-jobs as a detective and security guard. He has recently learned that his old girlfriend, whom he is unilaterally trying to get back with, is screwing some German dude. In order to dampen the affair, he has arranged for some of his underworld contacts to take a hand in the matter and he is getting out of town to put some distance between himself and the events that are planned to transpire. Ana on the other hand is glad she has not heard from Tony again in the last week and is hopeful that he might be giving up his obsession that they hook-up again. Kirsten has been telling her that she is concerned about the area she is living in because at times lately, she has felt she is being stalked. She is glad that although Eric is acting strange and picking arguments with her, they are still living together, so she feels “protected”. Otherwise she may have to move from Carabanchel, although the rent is cheap, and she is still not getting a stable volume of work that will allow her to move elsewhere comfortably. She has bared her heart to her friend, telling her how much in love she is and how she is doing all that she can to make the relationship flourish in spite of the handwriting on the wall. Although she feels a twinge of remorse over her hitherto unknown role to Kirsten in this “threesome”, Ana has a pragmatic philosophy that “such is life” and if love is not there any longer, you have to be strong enough to admit it and move on. She is ready to sacrifice her long-time friend for her own satisfaction, not realizing that the basis for her own relationship with Eric does not bode well for its outcome. From his perspective, Eric believes in the “survival of the fittest”, or those who successfully adapt to new environments. He finds Ana’s hot, Latin blood alluring and he loves leading the sophisticated urban life in a big city. He sees Kirsten as a traditional German girl of hardy, Bavarian peasant stock, whose goal in life is to make a little money using her bilingual talents, get married and move back to Schwangau to live on a farm or to own a bed and breakfast and raise a brood of children. It was good while it lasted because she was a compatriot in a strange land when he arrived, and she took him in and made him feel at home, but it’s time to break with the past and start a new life with someone more to his present likings. Nonetheless, he feels guilty because he knows how much in love Kirsten is with him and how she has pinned her hopes on him. He also knows she is alone, living in a bad neighborhood because of her financial circumstances and is reluctant to leave her in the lurch. He is trying to plan for a yet to be determined date on which he will try to make a more graceful exit and he knows Ana is getting testy. He has not yet made his intentions known to Kirsten or shown any signs that he is getting ready to do so, so Ana feels he is using her. As the Spanish so quaintly say, puede que se quede sin la soga ni la cabra. (Literally, he could “lose both the rope as well as the goat.” He might end up without either one because of his indecision so he has to make his move soon and let the chips fall where they may. But as far as today is concerned, he is tired after a long day at his clerk’s job at Deutsche Bank. He is ready for the hearty bohnensuppe Kirsten promised him this morning, which she knows is his favorite, and whatever else the evening might bring. There’s no sense in depriving himself or poor Kirsten when he can’t make a move yet. Maybe when they give him a raise at DB and he can help her to move to a better area…
As Bo walked towards his grandmother’s apartment in Happy Valley, across from the horse track, he gingerly criss-crossed through the street market reflecting on the different culture from what he was accustomed to back in San Francisco. Vendors were aggressively hawking their colorful wares which varied from fresh produce, to esoteric potions, to live snakes and those bottled in brine, all leaking into the street in jumbled order. They remind him of his uncontrolled thoughts abruptly spilling into his awareness. The day had gone relatively well for him. Although a member of the legal team was always present throughout his lengthy interviews with the prospective interpreters, and the latter were obviously bilingual, he was successful in subtly planting doubts as to the loyalty and capabilities of the linguists they were interviewing. The case they are involved in hinges on proving alleged violations by China of World Trade Organization rules in a greenfield direct investment project by a large American electronics manufacturer. Bo is focusing on insinuating that they are not going to get a fair shake with these subcontractors because they would not be impartial due to their ties to the government, the chief user of language services in China. Practically all interpreters are government officials who deal with the “non-Chinese world” and perform interpreting duties as a secondary part of their work, although the freelance market is beginning to open. As a point of comparison, a day’s interpreting fee is double or more than a month’s salary for a government employee, so the interpreters being evaluated are keen on getting this assignment. Although not privy to the conversations among the Americans, the Chinese are beginning to get the impression that their suit is not faring well. Bo heard them in the restroom, unbeknownst to them, disparagingly referring to him as a “banana”, Hong Kong slang for a Chinese that has been assimilated into Western culture and is yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Bo knows that some of the candidates being considered are members of AIIC as he is, and it has crossed his mind that they might report their suspicions about his handling of this opportunity to their association representatives, not to mention the political implications this could have by undermining his own credibility and that of his client before the WTO tribunal, but it is a calculated risk he wants to take in view of the benefits. Regardless, this does not keep him from fantasizing that he could be prosecuted in China. He replays snippets in his head of the recent “show trial” of his namesake, Bo Xilai. That guy had been sent up for life, even if the transgressions were not the same. In addition, if his U.S. employers catch wind of his self-serving maneuvers, he stands to lose his best client and ruin his reputation back home. This would be disastrous as the main reason for doing this is that he is “upside-down” on his mortgage and cannot make ends meet with his normal income. His wife adamantly refuses to consider moving from “Snob Hill”, so he is between a rock and a hard place, which invariably brings on a now-chronic migraine headache. Hopefully, his grandmother will have some traditional Chinese medicine to get him through the next few days, although he suspects that knowing her, the advice will be to eliminate conflict in his physical body by acting ethically. What to do? What is best for him in the long run? He would probably never be found out, it would all be over in a few months and he would get out of the financial mess he had gotten himself into when he bought that damn apartment at the height of the real-estate boom. To be continued… Be part of the creative process by sharing your opinions as the storyline concludes:
It was November 14, 2004. A blustery winter evening in New York. The sun had gone down and the wind was gusting hard. My stomach rumbled relentlessly and I shivered in spite of my down parka. I sprinted briskly along West 63 St., to reach my destination near Carnegie Hall, at 25-C, the apartment/ashram of Yogi Gupta, my spiritual preceptor, as quickly as possible.
I had traveled to Manhattan from Miami primarily to do my work as a simultaneous interpreter at a board of directors meeting for a large multinational client, but I wanted to get a spiritual boost by going to the center as I didn’t often have the opportunity to attend. I had finished a 30 Day Purification Diet that day and made the mistake of going to a Thai restaurant in the city with my colleagues to celebrate a job well done and break the fast. As I greedily wolfed down my curry dish, with chicken no less, I dimly remembered Guruji’s warning that spicy foods were not good for you. But I was dying to eat something tasty after watermelon, leaves and herbs for thirty days and when someone suggested this place, I jumped at it. Not a good idea. That is what happens when we block out our inner voice thinking , “this time” I know better.
Sure enough, my body was so de-toxed that although I had specified that I wanted the spice level to be mild, eating the dish was similar to receiving a kick in the gut.
Thinking Outside the Box
Upon arrival at 25-C, I asked Swami Prabathanand, who was manning the front desk, to recommend an herb to put an end to my misery and bought some E+ to assuage the intestinal flora. It was ultimately very good but that night I had to pay for my rashness. Guruji was in India at the time but one of his senior disciples was offering a Psychic Development technique class and a Sound Meditation scheduled to start at 7:00 p.m., for which I promptly signed up. It wasn’t the Guru personally but it was the next best thing. His teachings through an experienced disciple. I am usually very organized and from my shorthand training as an interpreter, whenever I attend lectures I take down the discourse in my own diary so that I can subsequently internalize the learning by reviewing it. However by then, the food poisoning from lunch had set in. It was all I could do to try to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and I had to make a brave showing as I was the only one in attendance.
I distantly heard the instructor talk about a mythical Temple of Colors in Lemuria, a lost continent located where Japan is now, inhabited by a colony of women priestesses who were able to simply look at the astral body of supplicants, determine what colors were missing and replace them to cure problems. He spoke about the Psychic Development technique, in which I was receiving instruction, as being more powerful than Ayurveda, in that it teaches us how to communicate with the Masters, who are here to help the world advance. They are the ones who end wars and shift resources around the earth as needed. If we communicate with them our life will become much easier. In order to do the technique correctly, we need to build up prana/primal energy and not let it leak out via our thoughts. We waste time trying to mentally figure out who we are through the senses which give us wrong information. By tuning in to the Masters and through meditation, we get to the truth. It is always better to meditate in the presence of a teacher he said, because his mind is more settled and will still the restless thoughts of our “monkey brain.”
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
In spite of my stomach woes, I had a great sound meditation with a gong, which I had not been exposed to before. But alas, it was time to get up and go home. I knew from the way I was feeling I would never be able to walk back the 15 minutes to the hotel. It was 9 o’clock and there were no taxi stands anywhere in the vicinity. I dreaded having to walk to Broadway to attempt to hail a cab for a short ride, but dragged myself to the revolving front door and stepped out. I had stood there in the biting cold only long enough to get my bearings when a taxi drove up right in front of me to drop off someone at the building. I was astounded at this “coincidence” and weakly fell into the back seat muttering “Thank you Guruji” under my breath.
The following day I was slightly better but still in significant discomfort, having been unable to sleep the night before. I took a cab instead of the shuttle to La Guardia, to board a full flight to Miami. I cringed contemplating the three hour trip in a middle seat. I had been unable to upgrade to an aisle seat to be closer to the restroom because the flight was oversold. I wouldn’t even be able to rest my head against the window to grab some shuteye. My only consolation was that I had to be burning a lot of karma with how badly I felt!
I took my seat, stowed my carry-on with the help of another passenger because I felt so fatigued, and waited for the boarding process to finish. Imagine my surprise when twenty minutes later, the stewardess started reading the safety precautions and no one had come to claim the other two seats in my row, in spite of the fact that there were no other empty seats on the plane. I knew then, as I spread out, that without a doubt, what Yogi Gupta always said: “Nothing happens as a bolt from the blue”, or “A mouse doesn’t suddenly jump out of a cupboard” (meaning there are no coincidences in life), is true. The Guru knew I was making an effort to go to 25-C and although he was not there in the flesh, his spirit was there, as he often promised. We can always maintain a psychic connection with him he told us, because “neither time nor distance are an obstacle”. By going, I was endeavoring to connect with him and his teachings, so he was taking care of me in an extraordinary way because I was actively seeking the company of the Wise Man.
This was further confirmed when after arriving on my night flight, tired and bedraggled, I tried to secure a luggage cart at MIA baggage claim. I needed to take a trunk with sound equipment that I had brought back with me, to the taxi stand. Since I was one of the last people to get off a full flight, by the time I picked up my box, there were no carts available, nor any skycaps to assist me. Nonetheless, in a matter of two minutes, before I could cry from exhaustion and chagrin, a lady three carrousels away from mine, spotted me, approached me spontaneously and offered me hers.
I was thusly reminded of what Guruji once said to me : “If you continue to make spiritual efforts, God’s and Guru’s help will never be lacking. God helps those who make efforts to help themselves to the best of their ability”.
I have always found this advice to be very practical because whenever you improve yourself spiritually it affects your physical and emotional bodies as well as your mind, which in turn influences your work and everyday life. In this particular case, the purification diet in question was enervating. Our bodies are like machines that after working non-stop for a period of time, need a break for rest, cleaning and overhauling. Even if we are eating the right foods, our digestive systems can use an opportunity to burn toxins or excess fat, clearing small problems before they become big ones. In addition to losing weight, this practice makes me feel so much lighter; it increases both my energy and concentration which are primary staples for interpreting of any type.
Meditation is also extremely beneficial as it allows us to detach from the constant barrage of sensory input that we receive, especially in our business, facilitating a direct connection with our consciousness that generates relaxation and lets us harness our resources more efficiently to both lead our lives and carry out our work in a better way.
To see a more comprehensive explanation of the benefits of meditation, watch this video:
Share your “coincidences” with me. We have all had those experiences where we are in the “zone”, doing something we love or care about. They are nature’s way of telling us to pay attention to what we are doing because it resonates with us and points us towards what we could be doing to improve our lives.
There are many phrases we use in English on a regular basis that don’t have a direct translation into our other working languages and we may not even know how they became part of the English language to fathom a meaning. I have chosen a few to highlight in order to enrich our understanding of how these terms came to be.
The first one is one that I ran across a few days ago when I saw a play by that name. It is “top drawer”. I intuited that it meant something that is the best, the pick of the crop. It can mean that, but it goes beyond, having social implications. Someone that is top drawer is someone that is acknowledged to be the crème de la crème in society, which is exactly what it meant in the play in question. It came into being because the social elite used to put their important papers and possessions in the top drawer of their dresser.
Then there are sayings like “it cost an arm and a leg”(when something is very pricey), you “have a chip on your shoulder”(you are holding a grudge and making no bones about it –or not leaving any room for doubt), and “it doesn’t cut the mustard” (something doesn’t meet expectations). The first one seems to have been popularized during WWII when many soldiers paid the high price of war by forfeiting a limb. The second apparently rose from a local custom in the U.S. in the early 19th century, where boys wanting to fight would dare others to physically knock a chip of wood from their shoulder to instigate a fight. Cutting the mustard was easier to envisage because of references in the Bible as to how minute the seed is, and hence difficult to cut.
“You’re barking up the wrong tree” (you’re mistaken), originated from America’s English ancestry, in which hunting was prominent. At times hounds would apparently chase their quarry up a tree and start barking at the base of the wrong one. The phrase “quick and dirty fix” (is for when something solves a problem but not in the best way). It appears to have come about in the 20th century in an environment related to mechanics or computers.
A word I often use myself is “upshot” (result). What was the upshot of the discussion? It made it into our vocabulary through the field of sports. It is the name of the last shot in an archery match. One of my favorites, although very colloquial, is “he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed” (he’s not the brightest person around).
When life does not seem to offer any viable options, we have come up with idioms such as the more antiquated “you’ve put me between the devil and the deep blue sea”, or “between a rock and a hard place”. The first is easy to figure, either we will be in the devil’s hands or at the bottom of the sea. The second, interestingly enough, arose after a union employment conflict in the US, where the miners involved were given the choice of working for vey low wages, or losing their job altogether.
I would love to hear some of your picks for a future continuation to this article, or about similar interesting phrases that have become mainstream in other languages.
You most likely do not know him, although you probably should if you are a jazz fan. He is a virtuoso instrumentalist who has been playing since age six. He has visited over 60 countries and performed at nearly every major jazz festival on the planet. He has recorded with virtually every Brazilian pop singer plus some heavyweights on the international jazz scene.
Blowing into his saxophone is the only thing Widor Santiago has ever done for a living. He completely masters his instrument and is at ease performing live before hundreds of thousands of spectators in large arenas or at Copacabana Beach during the now-traditional New Year’s festivities in Rio. Yet, despite his unquestionable experience and immaculate precision, Widor, now in his mid-fifties, still follows a rather strict ritual before stepping on stage. It includes introspection, concentration drills, and, quite surprisingly, prayers.
A Comparable Craft
Music is as complex a language as any other. It uses its own ancient notation method of dots, bars, and symbols, a part of which got transliterated and simplified in modern times using the first seven letters of the Roman alphabet to refer to the seven basic musical notes. As with any spoken language, music is susceptible to infinite variations in tone, pitch, intensity, and tempo. In their urge to communicate, skillful musicians and interpreters will deftly combine those elements just so to disclose or conceal, enrapture or aggravate, grieve or celebrate, reveal or withdraw.
Musicians can be compared to conference interpreters on many counts. The former deal in musical notes and melodic phrases, the latter in words and units of meaning. For everything else, there are probably more similarities than there are differences. A musician, like an interpreter, will rely heavily on a sense of hearing while keeping all other sensory channels open to any ancillary elements of meaning that could be blended into a harmonious whole: the conductor’s gestures, the symbols on the score, the vibration given off by one’s instruments, the audience’s reaction. Interpreters and musicians must be endowed with a fine notion of timing, intensive focus, and agility. They must be nimble and able to improvise at a moment’s notice. They perform live in front of massive audiences, making endless instantaneous decisions as they give voice to other people’s songs or tales. The risks inherent in such high-visibility, livestreaming performances can make stress a lifelong companion to musicians as well as interpreters.
Playing to Transform
At first glance, Widor’s pre-show routine does not quite add up. After so many years on the road, you would expect an artist of his caliber to have overcome any performing anxiety or stage fright. Could he really have butterflies in his stomach at every new gig? I was determined to find out, driven by something other than mere curiosity. I sought an analogy that could produce actionable advice one could put to good use on stage as well as in the booth.
Taking advantage of my proximity to him—I married his sister some 20 years ago—I decided to ask him straight. An enlightening conversation ensued. “I like to take a minute to remind myself of the reasons I am there,” Widor explained, pausing briefly before continuing. “Different people play for different reasons. Some of my colleagues play from a place of anger. They resent being discriminated against, socially, racially, or otherwise. They feel they have been dealt a bad hand and it makes them angry. They take that anger with them on stage and work extra hard to shine, if only to take it out on the world.” He went on to explain that other performers play for the reassurance that comes with applause. They enjoy the boost to their self-esteem and capitalize on their insecurity to play like never before and attract the recognition they crave. There are also those whose art is a form of avoidance. Their heart is no longer in it, but playing keeps them busy while providing a perfect excuse to procrastinate and stay away from something else they ought to be doing (but at which they secretly fear failing).
Widor’s words totally and immediately resonated with the interpreter in me. In a profession as ego-driven as ours, it is easy to get misled. Breaking into the craft may at times involve a fair amount of elbowing, and the resulting anger can accompany a newcomer long after the initial friction. Also, simultaneous interpreting is still regarded as a superior skill, bordering on the magical, and the reassurance that comes from knowing one can do it and do it well may be uplifting and keep an interpreter elated for years on end. And there are many among us whose enthusiasm has faded, for whom playing has lost its luster. They feel jaded and yet unable to turn the table. Anxiety mounts.
“Anger can be as valid a driver as any other, provided the end result is good music,” Widor continued. “Still, in such circumstances, there will always be an underlying anxiety that is hard to push away,” he warned. Now, if the jitters are no longer a problem for Widor, then why all the introspection and praying before each of his performances? He settled the issue quite surprisingly. “I know that on any given day, in any crowd, there is at least one individual ready to be touched by a single note I play. I pray that she or he is there and leaves changed.” He concluded the conversation with a powerful statement: “I play to transform.”
In Search of Compassion
Regardless of what we do, we are all moving along a continuum spanning the full spectrum of human feelings. And while any emotion can technically carry us forward and help us shine, some will definitely leave a lingering, better aftertaste. The higher we move up the emotional scale, the closer we are to excellence and bliss. Learning to progress from mediocre to awesome and from miserable to great involves discovering loftier emotions from which to operate.
At the end of the day, anything worth doing is worth doing right. Interpreting should be no exception. It is a beautiful craft, ultimately anchored in the notion of service. It is also a stressful, taxing activity that can leave us mentally and physically drained, so we might as well do it for the right reasons. Why desecrate it with emotions unworthy of the effort? Why tie its expression to our need for reassurance or, worse yet, retribution? Why not make it meaningful by making it about someone else? Could we possibly transit from anger to vanity to detachment and, like Widor, eventually play from a place of compassion? It will likely be a gradual process, and the first step, of course, is determining where we find ourselves now. Looking for our underlying motives takes full precedence.
So, trying to translate into actionable advice some of what I learned from my friend that day, here are some suggestions and questions to help interpreters keep the reasons for their actions in check and evolving:
- Make it a habit to reflect on why it is that you do the things you do.
- More specifically, try to drill down on what makes you tick as an interpreter. Be honest!
- Challenge your motives by asking what is next on the scale.
- What could make you want to perform better? What emotion could keep you going forever?
- For whom are you playing? Whom are you hoping to touch?
- What could take you to a more compassionate mode?
- How would that affect your anxiety?
These are hard questions, and the answers will likely elude you for a while. Yet asking them and acting on the ensuing hunches is the only way forward. In the meantime, you would do well to emulate part of Widor’s concentration routine. Taking a minute to remind yourself of the true reasons you are there will make you a more conscientious interpreter. You do not need to pray, if you are not spiritually inclined, but a little introspection before opening the mike is easy enough to do and well worth your time.
Beyond the booth or across the stage are discoveries waiting to be made, insights dying to materialize, myths one push away from collapse. And in any crowd, on any given day, there is at least one life longing to be transformed. All it takes is one note played right, one word uttered compassionately, by someone no longer interested in proving a point.
A quick refresher for those of us who don’t remember Freud’s tripartite structure of the psyche.
Seconds before the alarm on his i-phone went off, Harry languidly opened one eye, methodically scratched his parts and peered through the blinds that faced the Atlantic Ocean and the 395 causeway on South Beach. Traffic was barely starting to crawl but he knew he had to move fast to not be caught in the crunch when everyone starts to head towards downtown. He had to be at the federal courthouse by 8:00 for a big trial in which he was going to be interpreting with a new hire. Although he would never admit it, Harry had developed a ritual over the years to haze new interpreters at the courthouse and demonstrate his seniority, or so he thought, because he technically didn’t have any. Today’s game was particularly exciting because although she was touted to be a very good interpreter, she had almost always worked in conference settings. There was no way she could have hoarded the amount of legal trivia Harry had proudly amassed in his brain over the last twenty years, and he felt certain some of these obscure terms would be showcased in today’s proceedings. He relished in anticipation the “deer in the headlights” look on his prey’s face when it was her turn to interpret them and craftily planned what his response would be.
Halfway around the world, it was 1:00 p.m. Ana was well into her day’s work, interpreting at the Global Forum to Eradicate Child Pornography being held at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid. She was hoping she would not run into her friend Kirsten during the lunchtime break, who was working the German booth. Understandably so, because although she justified it to herself because her friend had told her their relationship was on the rocks, Ana was having an affair with Kirsten’s boyfriend, Eric. She was afraid that during an argument between the two of them, that uncomfortable truth would come out and she would then have to deal with it. It could hurt her reputation in the circuit as well as affect her output. But in the meantime, he was great in bed and she had had quite a dry spell after her own breakup over a year ago. Ana was unrealistically hoping that the two Germans would soon come to a cordial or at least civilized separation, in accord with their intrinsic nature, so that this detail would never come to light. After all, from her Teutonic experience, scanty as it was, they were not nearly as hysterical as Latinos. And that was something she did know a lot about.
Lastly, all the way around the world in Hong Kong, it was 7:00 p.m., and Bo had finished his interpreting work held at the posh Kowloon Hotel, at interviews grilling potential translators for the attorneys that had brought him there from San Francisco. As the image of the scintillating skyline of neon-lit skyscrapers receded on his way to Happy Valley on the tram, he realized how exhausted he was. It had been a long day and he was shouldering a delicate responsibility in advising his clients on the selection of a linguist for this all-important case. He had hoped he would be asked to do all the work himself which entailed flying regularly to HKG, a lucrative gig with the added benefit that he could also visit his elderly grandmother and mentor, but that did not seem to be in the cards unless he swiftly took matters into his hands and manipulated the outcome of this trip for his own benefit. It would be relatively simple to do, as luckily none of the attorneys spoke Mandarin, and after all, the justification was they would be getting himself, the best professional available, who was thoroughly familiar with the case.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is currently 1:00p.m. We are going to break for lunch. Please be back in your seats promptly at 2:00 p.m. so we may continue hearing this witness’s testimony. Remember not to discuss any details concerning the case with anyone. This court is now in recess.”
The race is on because there is no time to walk to a neighboring restaurant, do battle with the lunch crowd, order, eat and walk back. The only choice is to buy something from the vending machines at the courthouse, gulp it down, answer pending messages and emails, and make it back to the courtroom.
Not an optimal option but we rationalize it, buy a ham and cheese sandwich, a bag of chips, a soda and a doughnut for the late afternoon blues, which we can have with a coffee to give us some energy later. This is a situation I daresay many interpreters encounter rather often, which may be compounded by getting home in the evening, exhausted after a long day, and pulling out a frozen meal “healthy”, or not, to save time and rest up for the following day. Especially if we have to prepare for the coming testimony.
In this short and trite but telling example, we have a listing of some of the worst foods we consume in the United States, on a regular basis:
Processed foods (sandwich) Researchers have found that the risk of heart disease is 42% higher among people who regularly eat processed meats.
Soda Nearly half of surveyed Americans drink 2+ glasses a day. An average can contains 10 tsp. of sugar, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup and represents many health risks in addition to an increase in obesity, in a country where more than one third of the population suffers from this condition.
Potato chips In addition to causing you to tip the scales, the regular consumption of potato chips will cause a spike in blood pressure from the high sodium content, a rise in cholesterol due to the trans fats from deep frying and the saturated fat. Other researchers are saying that the carcinogen, acrylimide, created during the deep frying process, puts you at a risk for cancer.
Doughnuts a compendium of trans fat, sugar and refined flour, with a high fat content and around 300 empty calories, to calm a sweet tooth and purportedly increase your energy level.
Frozen meals do not usually contain enough calories or vegetables, which have lost much of their nutritive value by being frozen. The meals have a high sodium content that make them dangerous to health.
Many of the foods discussed here have a high sugar content. Read this link to understand more fully the drowsiness that sugar creates and what that entails. Another substantial portion has an elevated sodium content which causes high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. For an overview of how these effects are produced, read here.
As interpreters we need to be at the top of our game because we never know what the next assignment will require and our brains need to be able to swiftly collect our resources and deliver them as soon as it receives a signal to act. We cannot afford to be lethargic on the job. Moreover, we are often involved in stressful circumstances which raise our blood pressure so we must try to eliminate foods that will increase our blood pressure further. Our level of energy and state of health depend to a great extent on the food we ingest.
Read up on what comprises a healthy diet and learn how to interpret the nutrition labels on food. They are extremely helpful in formulating what we include in our meals. Strategize what you are going to eat in advance so you won’t be caught off guard by circumstances and will have other options.
Share with us any other suggestions for healthy eating in difficult circumstances.
What is a person to do?
“I don’t know anyone. What do they expect of me? How am I supposed to behave? What is a 4H Club? How do you play kick ball? Why do they do math problems so strangely? Is school really over at 3:30 every day?” These were some of the existential concerns that fed my insecurity at the age of 10 when I moved to the U.S. from Cuba and started school in Manchester, CT.
Clearly, I could have remained in the dark for some time, given I did not know anyone well enough to ask, and was embarrassed that I was the only kid in school that apparently did not know these things. Enter a wonderful, generous and very genuine American family, that of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Taylor, that took my brothers and I under their wing and taught us all about life in New England in a very fun way by sharing it with us. That was my first experience with mentoring outside of my family and the positive experience has stayed with me for a lifetime. To this day, I keep in touch with their children, Debbie and Bill.
In our profession, when we start out or if we move to another location, the first three questions might remain the same while the others may be replaced by analogous ones such as, “Should I join the local interpreting association? How much should I charge? Is the terminology used here different from what I am used to?”, etc., etc. I remember after joining NAJIT (National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators), I was contemplating running for office. I cold-called Isabel Framer, then Chairperson to ask her advice, and she kindly offered to take me with her when she made the rounds at the upcoming annual conference, to introduce me so I could learn first-hand what the organization was doing. She didn’t know me from Adam but she selflessly took the time from her schedule to help me because she knew I was earnest about volunteering and she wanted to be a mentor although her term was ending at the conference in question.
A call to arms!
I know that many of us have so much knowledge and experience that we should share them, and make life much easier for our colleagues. Consider offering your services at a local or national level to some of our many fine organizations. I am sure they receive calls from members asking for guidance on a regular basis. You might propose to let interpreters shadow you when it is in a public setting where it is feasible. By just watching, we learn. Our brains have “mirror neurons” that enable us to automatically copy what we see and the modeling that you do will allow a learner to internalize behavior much more than any description ever will. You might also share glossaries if pertinent, and attend networking meetings or social occasions sponsored by an association. At these events you can help in a “meet and greet” capacity, making new or prospective members feel at ease. If you have the know-how, you may offer to give a seminar on the aspects of interpreting that you are familiar with and feel could be helpful to others. You can contact your local high school and talk about interpreting on Career Day. If you like to write, you can pen articles, and so on.
There are many ways to meet mentoring needs and contrary to what you may think, the giver learns and benefits as much or more than the takers in these scenarios. This is a win-win situation. In terms of self-esteem, there is nothing that beats the endorphin-high and fulfillment you get by meaningfully helping others. Those whom you help directly as well as the organizations you work through will certainly bolster your reputation. Furthermore, do not discount the possibility that you will meet interesting people, learn something new, have fun and be more intimately connected to others that have interests akin to yours. Don’t leave it for the future. There is never a perfect time. Volunteer now and those of you who have participated in these type of activities, consider sharing your experiences with us!
It was October 25, 2011. As I waited in the hematologist’s office to get the results of the bone marrow biopsy that would provide the answers to the random and debilitating symptoms I had been experiencing for a month, I was not concerned. I do remember wondering why hematology (the study of blood) was paired with such an ominous title as oncology (the study of cancer) in his degree hanging on the wall but I did not take it personally. I am far from being a worrywart. I have always been relatively healthy, a vegetarian of many years, I was into wellness, a regular yoga practitioner, and so on. I had my bases covered. Furthermore, I knew everything happens for a reason and works to our benefit if we can wait long enough to connect the dots.
It was going to be a simple answer. Maybe anemia because in the last few months I had been very busy and not taking the time to prepare food as I should have. I was in a hurry to get this doctor’s appointment done. It was late afternoon. I had to pack my bags for a business trip, prepare for a meeting with the client there the next day, go to the drycleaners, in short, I had a limited period of time to get these things done.
I glanced over at my daughter who was on her iphone, from the corner of my eye, feeling guilty that she had taken the time to accompany me to what was a routine doctor’s visit when she had her own responsibilities to attend to.
Finally, the doctor ambulated back into the examining room, lab report in hand. At last, this show was on the road. It was only 3:00 p.m. so I still had time to make my rounds if I hurried. He looked at me impersonally and in a smooth tone, the result of years in practice no doubt, he told me that I had been diagnosed with MDS. He rattled off an incomprehensible name for the acronym (and I do medical interpreting for a living). He went on to say in one breath that he suggested I start chemotherapy immediately and contact the cancer center of my choice to schedule a bone marrow transplant within three months, that being the only cure for this disease, which quickly degenerates into leukemia left untreated. My brain mercilessly slammed the brakes on my hitherto, now trivial stream of consciousness. I felt I was floating in a void, looking at myself from afar. The only thing I had understood from the last three minutes of his dialogue was “leukemia”, and “cancer” and I noted sheepishly in my internal dialogue, that the only thing I knew about leukemia was that it was a disease of the blood, whose spokesman in the 60’s had been the entertainer, Danny Thomas, father of Marlo Thomas, who had founded St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Period, end of story.
Analyzing my choices.
I glimpsed at my daughter again, whose face was motionless and deathly pale, in contrast to her fingers that were full of life, moving in a blur, tapping the iphone’s keyboard without respite. I remember being amazed at her speed. She had always declined my suggestion to study typing to help her with her assignments in school. Funny what detours our minds take under stress. After reflecting, her only comment to the doctor was how long does she have to act and how do you spell myelodysplastic syndrome, which she used to google the condition and text my son. I’m sure she agreed with me that there was no point in beating this horse to the ground at that moment when we had, at best, a very simple grasp of the basics. I knew the only course for me was to internalize the information to plan how to proceed. This was easier said than done as I was not a fan of allopathic medicine (mainstream drug and surgery therapies) and this was the only alternative I was being offered to survive.
I still held out that the doctors could be wrong in my case because I had gotten rid of the joint aches and pains that had been plaguing me by visiting a physical therapist, but the doctors I went to at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, that specialize in bone marrow transplants, assured me that the “disease was cooking very fast” and I had to act immediately to forestall the possibility of developing acute leukemia which would reduce my chances of a successful transplant that was required within the next three months.
My children wisely never went head-to-head with me. They simply acknowledged that in the end, whatever I did was my decision, but we should have a plan B, in case my theory was wrong. We contacted the Icla da Silva Foundation, who is the world’s largest registry of potential bone marrow donors, affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program a/k/a Be the Match Registry®. Testing kits immediately went out to my four brothers and several friends and colleagues who volunteered to send a sample of their DNA to see if their bone marrow was such that they could be potential donors. I did not know at the time how important inherited factors of ethnicity and genetics are in this process. Nor did I know that 70% of patients are unable to find a match in their family and that furthermore, minority populations are sorely underrepresented in the registry, where Hispanics comprise only 10%.
Two weeks had not passed when a virtual “carny” pulled a lever and the roller coaster cranked up. I had not gotten any results back from the testing when I ended up in the hospital with one opportunistic infection after another, seriously impacting the possibility that I would be able to undergo a bone marrow transplant within the prescribed period, assuming I could find a suitable donor.
Fast forward. We heard in the nick of time that I had been blessed that my youngest brother was a match. I was able to grab the last available slot to do the transplant procedure at the end of January 2012. I made it out of the hospital on December 25, 2011 and prepared to immediately travel by car to Tampa.
Back to “The Others”, a psychological horror film, unlike its famous awarded Spanish predecessor, because of its real dimension.
The equation has changed now. “The others” are no longer an unknown portion of the population, unconnected to me. Not that they were ever truly unconnected but that is how my linear consciousness interpreted it to make it easier for my brain to process the information.
Now “the others” for me in this context, are those Hispanic patients in the same circumstances I was facing, who do not have a match and their time is running out. I have met some of them vicariously through their stories on the internet and some personally, who were not able to secure an ideal match because of the reasons outlined above and their transplants relapsed. This is for them. I am focusing on the U.S Hispanic population to narrow the scope of this paper, because I am a part of it and we represent 16.7% of the U.S. population, making it the nation’s largest ethnic or race minority according to the July 1, 2011 U.S. Census Bureau figures. Nonetheless, all ethnic groups are facing the same constraints to varying degrees.
What is the issue?
Due to a lack of relevant education, and subject awareness, there is a prevalent fear of donating physical organs in the Hispanic culture and thus an extremely low level of stem cell and bone marrow donations. Many subsequent recipients, myself included, have been fearful previous to needing donations, despite the fact that my children have regularly given blood. If not for the several transfusions I have received during the course of my illness, selflessly, from complete strangers through a blood bank, I would be dead. And I am among the 1.1 million (.02 of the total Hispanic population in the U.S.) that is over 25 years old and holds a post graduate degree, according to the July 1, 2011 U.S. Census. What can we expect from those who have not had the opportunity to attain that degree of education yet? Only 10% of the bone marrow donor registry is Hispanic and of that 10% only 47%, roughly half, is typically available when called to donate. What does that say for the chances of “The Others” for which a BMT to give them a donor’s healthy bone marrow to produce their blood cells is their only hope?
Because of the relatively small volume of blood disorders among Hispanics, considering other cancer research, pharma, which has a vested interest in profitably allocating the marketing budget for their products, has not sponsored large scale studies to identify the psychological traits discussed above. Those traits are compounded by others documented in a Brazilian study, which states that among uneducated males, the spinal cord was confused with the bone marrow and fears of paralysis, impotence and death were expressed. Also of not coming back from anesthesia should a traditional surgical extraction of bone marrow be performed. I have personally undergone the latter procedure for biopsies on several occasions under an anesthetic agent called Propofol/Dipravine and it is not only almost painless but you retain no memory of the proceeding. Furthermore, 80% of donations are currently done through stem cell collection in comparison to the surgical extraction of bone marrow, and the collection does not require an anesthetic of any type.
What is the solution?
The solution is for Hispanic professionals to start working for the future setting an example by donating and bringing more donors in with this information to counteract long standing myths. Consider that as of January 2013, in the US there were approximately 18 million Latinos on Facebook, and 1 million http://marrow.org/News/Media/Facts_and_Figures_(PDF).aspx , of which only 50% will make themselves available, on the non-profit National Marrow Donor Program® of potential donors, which has been renamed the Be the Match Registry®. Don’t wait until a person close to you is stricken, take the first step and Be the Match®.
This question is not the exclusive purview of philosophers and mental health practitioners. It has always been a hot topic and many of us chew our nails to the nubs while making decisions that involve a major issue in our life such as relationships, health care, family problems, the purchase of a house, etc. After we reach a conclusion, we oftentimes continue to second-guess it, especially when as now, circumstances are aggravated by difficult economic times that have a bearing on many of these situations.
In the T&I profession there are key decisions as well, that impact our lifestyle and need to be confronted. Among others, they include questions such as educational choices, what work aspect of language to focus on, what is best for me, a freelancer or employee position? What remuneration should I seek? Is there value in volunteering my services to a trade association, etc.
Being a rational MBA and a long-time spiritual seeker, I have one foot planted firmly in both of these camps, and I follow a balanced procedure I devised that I would like to share with you as it has proven invaluable to me over the years. Start out by not believing everything you think prior to undergoing the process.
- The first step is to research the matter. The most generalized search you will do will be probably be on Google but rather than typing in a simple phrase, learn the search conventions for advanced searches which are very simple to do and will save you a lot of time. Please note that there are similar tips for advanced searches on other platforms such as additional search engines, FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc.
- Make a short list of the pros and cons of each solution. Remember that comparing options will increase your confidence.
- Identify a qualified friend as well as a devil’s advocate to discuss the alternatives. Remember that advice from others usually comes from the intellect.
- Listen to your gut/intuition to determine what feels comfortable and resonates with you. Remember that in the end, you know better than anyone else what is best for you.
- Be aware that the world is in constant flux and you will be able to reassess many of your decisions should you decide they are not working for you in the future.
- Realize that experience is one of the main filters our brain uses to make decisions. It therefore stands to reason that you focus on positive experiences and try to reduce or eliminate internalizing negative ones so that your “database” is populated by optimistic, affirmative information.
- I cannot overstate the importance of a regular simple meditation practice of 15 minutes twice a day to clear the cobwebs. It will help you immensely to analyze all of the above, in addition to having many other benefits.
Bear in mind that whatever you ultimately decide will be the best resolution you could have reached. It may not be completely apparent why in the short term, but in the end I can assure you that it will be an experience you had to undergo to fulfill some as yet possibly unidentified need in your path. I am convinced that nothing in life is random. It just may take a while to connect the dots but there is an Intelligence superior to ours guiding our steps and our prior understanding of all the details does not contribute to the desired outcome.
I hope you will agree that this is both a relevant and fascinating topic. I look forward to seeing your comments and benefiting from your opinions and experiences.