Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lost In Translation

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After a day in Port au Prince yesterday, I fully understand the phrase ‘lost in translation’. Really, really lost.

The first stop was a government office to pick up our registration/licensing papers for the mission. These papers are very important and have been six months in the making. Upon investigation, I noticed that there was a slight translation problem. Our organization is called “Children’s International Lifeline”. The front page referred to us as “Children’s International Light Line.” Elsewhere, it was translated “Light Life”.

Come on, people. Even I, with my limited language skills, can correctly translate the words Life, Line, and Light. Here you go: Vie, Ligne, and Lumiere. Where do I sign up for my government translator job? It got worse, I found some places where the name was left in English, but was still mistranslated. Even the English to English translation got lost. I have been assured the corrections will be made and we’ll have the papers back by the weekend. Riiiiiight.

Next task – find a medical wholesale store that I’ve heard about in Port. We’ll need to find a place to purchase our medical supplies and medicines in bulk once our clinic opens up. Everyone I talked to and asked has also heard about this place. Unfortunately, no one actually knows where it is. BUT they’ll all tell you how to get there. After making a few calls and stopping people on the street and walking into numerous pharmacies, I realized that everyone was just guessing. They were all very accommodating and friendly, but had no clue. We were literally driving in circles at one point. Lost. One of our circles brought us past Dominos Pizza. Hope and Isaac voted unanimously for a pizza lunch, and I was ready for a break.

I pushed on the Dominos door. It stuck. Locked. Looking inside, I could see an employee behind the counter who had absolutely no intention on making eye contact with me. I asked a passerby if the place was open, she told me “they open at eleven o’clock”. I looked at my watch. It was eleven forty-five. We decided to wait them out. I needed time to make calls and continue to try and locate the medical wholesaler. Fortunately, I reached John McHoul, who knew of the place (like everyone else) and confidently told me exactly how to get there (unlike anyone else). Note to self: should have called John in the first place. Things were looking up.

After about ten minutes on the front steps, another Dominos employee walked by on the outside of the building. I asked him what time they would open. He said – “when we have electricity” and mumbled something about a generator. I distracted Isaac and Hope from their disappointment by promising to stop at the other pizza place in Port on the way to the wholesale store. It’s called Pizza P’am (translated My Pizza). When we got there, I noticed the street sign had been removed in front of the place, and when pulling in the parking lot saw the empty building and darkened windows. Hope and Ike and I now translate Pizza P’am this way: major disappointment.

The good news: Next we found the wholesaler right where John said they would be. That was a major relief. The place is perfect- very nice and helpful, great selection, even handed me an inventory list. I almost fell over. No communication problems, nothing lost in translation. Hallelujah.

The bad news: Upon leaving, we were stopped in the road at a U.N. vehicle inspection point. The “peacekeeper” who approached was from Argentina. I am from America. His native language is Spanish I believe, or perhaps Portugese. Mine is English. Seeing as how I am now in Haiti, I have learned some Creole. He apparently has not. He tried Spanish, I tried French, we got nowhere. The Haitian Police usually request a driver’s license and insurance papers at their checkpoints, so that’s what I offered him. He waved them off and continued to say what sounded like “blahbity blah kookily flippity doo?” Ummmm, hello? Feeling lost again now… I just kept smiling and shrugging my shoulders. Eventually he gave up and shrugged and smiled, too – then waved us through.

The Haitians have a saying they use often when they are at wit’s end:
Tet Chage. Literally translated – Loaded Head. When I got back to the mission, Tipap asked me how the day went. All I had to say was Tet Chage. For once, I was understood perfectly…nothing lost in translation there.