An unexpected visit and challenge| June 18, 2013
My supervisor and fearless national director of Khulumani, Dr. Marjorie Jobson, informed me that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) delegation from Cote d’Ivoire will be visiting us, and invited me to be a part of the activities. They came to learn from the South African experience with the TRC process, and to bring back ideas about how to improve their process in Cote d’Ivoire. I naturally was excited about the opportunity to meet this esteemed group, especially since Cote d’Ivoire is a brother state of Niger, both being in francophone West Africa. Little did I know that being a part of the activities would mean spending the entire day translating back and forth between the English-speaking presenters and the French-speaking delegation. As we all sat around the table to begin the discussion, a member of the Ivoirian delegation asked me to serve as the translator instead of himself. Since “Always be prepared” is my motto (not really), I accepted, not knowing what I was getting myself into.
Never before has it been so clear to me how terrible my French had gotten—to the point where I was blanking out on the French word for “to burn” and used instead an equivalent of “to put on fire.” To add insult to injury, I had no idea how to translate legal terms such as filing a subpoena, or compelling someone to testify. At one point, we had Khulumani members and victims of human rights abuses testifying about their harrowing experience in Tswana, Zweli translating into English, and then me translating into French. I might—might—have accidentally smiled (maybe also laughed) at the ridiculousness of the process and at my gross incompetence, and I prayed and hoped that no member interpreted this as me laughing about their painful and disturbing experience. I did a decent job translating from French to English, and could do that any day, but I think I would need to spend some time in a French country again before I can properly translate from English into French.
I have found a new and profound sense of respect for interpreters. The delegation asked me to keep translating later that afternoon, and the next day, so either they were magnanimous and polite, or I did an acceptable job—or a bit of both. I also have an open invitation to come to Cote d'Ivoire. OK, fine—they were magnanimous.
Above, I am translating for the Ivoirian delegation, with Dr. Jobson, Nomarussia, and Zweli in the back.
Here we are above, with the Ivoirian delegation and Khulumani members and staff (including Dr. Jobson in the front row, right). I had a good laugh with the Khulumani members later about the translating process, so I was reassured that they understood why I was laughing earlier.
Above, the Ivoirian TRC and Khulumani staff travel to the offices of the Legal Resources Center in Johannesburg, for meetings with a South African TRC commissioner, Michael Schmidt (an expert on training journalists for how to cover TRC processes), and Paul Verryn (a Methodist bishop who is heavily involved in the reconciliation process on behalf of churches). At the bottom-right is Maitre Mari-France Goffri, the eloquent and generous President of the Ivoirian delegation.