“Come and translate for me,” he said, and my gut sank. It’s one thing to translate, you know, unofficially and with only your personal pride at stake. I lost that a long time ago, linguistically speaking, at least. But to actually translate at what amounted to an official meeting between representatives of two governments…
Let’s just say I was not thrilled. Or, if we must cleave to honesty, I was set against it with all of my heart, and made this clear.
He wheedled and pled. I stood firm. He pulled puppy dog eyes. I stood firmer. He said, “Really, just come there and if I make a mistake, you’ll step in to help.”
Mmph. I stared him. Tried to discern his honesty.
“You can speak Russian, you know,” I groused. He nodded. “Better than me,” I added. I cut off his objection with a cold glare.
“Will you come?” he asked.
“You will speak. And only if I think it would be helpful will I add a word here or there.” He nodded. “And I am not responsible for any international disasters,” I added firmly. He nodded again.
So the date was set.
And because it was Georgia, it was postponed. Mind you, for any international development nuts out there, particularly those prone to laughing off all delays on other countries’ cultural foibles, I’ll tell you this was AT LEAST as much due to the expat as it was a local cultural phenomenon. Let us not cast stones…
Anyway, the day did come. I was summoned, and I went to the meeting.
“Please let me not cause an international catastrophe,” I prayed to the same God who saw fit for me to freeze during that winter like most of earth’s population.
So the meeting began, and to my surprise and gratitude, the man who’d asked for my help did indeed lead the conversation without expecting me to serve as a real translator. I began to relax.
Pff. Never begin to relax. That is PRECISELY when international catastrophes sense a crack in your armor.
He was describing something and I’d drifted off somewhat. He turned to me with a frown, his hand gesturing like he was sifting sand through his fingers. I knew that mildly desperate look in his eyes and leaned forward to hear what word he needed.
“Forestry?” he asked.
Forestry? FORESTRY? What, he couldn’t pick a simple word? FORESTRY? Who KNOWS that word in a foreign language? Dude, I don’t even know what that means in ENGLISH.
I looked at him poisonously.
That was the only thing he asked of me. I shrugged helplessly. I didn’t cause an international scandal.
That night, however, I did look up forestry in the dictionary. Learnt two different words for it.
I have never used those two words since.