Unlike Gabriel García Márquez's, Love in the Time of Cholera, this, my friends, is no love story. At least, not between two people...
It's the year 2020. In one part of the world, just a couple of months before, unbeknownst to others, a sinister virus has emerged. It takes a hold of hundreds of respiratory systems, transferring itself from one human to the next, quickly, easily and at alarming rates. The death tolls begin to rise, hundreds begin to fall ill, then thousands. It begins to cross borders and then oceans. By March of the year 2020, it has become a global pandemic and it is named COVID-19.
These days are unlike anything I've experienced in my lifetime and yet, somehow, some aspects feel strangely familiar. That's likely due to all the movies I've watched having to do with an apocalyptic virus that threatens to destroy most, if not all of humanity. Thus far the closest I've gotten to actually seeing this in real life has been the death of stacked rolls of toilet paper. Nevertheless, these days are in fact strange and surreal. I use to say that my favorite sound was laughter and now if I hear a group of people laughing outside my window, I cringe in wonder why they're not taking this situation more seriously and staying indoors.
My daily routine was like that of many others. Living in California, traffic is a common theme. I learned to despise my drives, complaining every chance I had at the fact that I had to drive so far to get to work, pull an 8 hour day and then drive so long to get back home. Every day, for the past 7 years, I've complained. Until the driving came to a complete stop. No more commutes. Now, I've no idea if there's still traffic on the freeways and what's more, the other day I admitted (out-loud) that I missed my drives! I realized that, in part, it had to do with what I began doing with my commute time in order to distract myself from the irritation that comes with being in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I used this hour to hour-and-a-half to listen to audio-books and educational podcasts. That hour to hour-and-half of what Zig Ziglar called "automobile-university", was what motivated me to look for the possibility in the day. I made lots of plans during countless commutes, overcame obstacles, handled heartbreak, found creativity, motivation and even convinced myself that, I too, had vast potential and skills yet to put into good use. All this within the time it took me to get to and from work.
Our daily routines have been interrupted; halted. We are now faced with dealing with a new norm. A norm for which there exists no precedents. From one day to the next we've been thrusted to learn how to work from home, for others to scramble to figure out from where their next paycheck will come. Businesses have altered their ways of service, some have closed altogether. Streets that just a couple of weeks ago were bustling with people and movement, now are shown as eerie ghost towns. Most of us have chosen to stay home and apply social distancing, not just to keep safe but also in hopes of helping to stop the spread of this global pandemic. Grandparents cannot physically see their grandchildren, elderly spouses cannot physically be with one another if one is in a care home. Those that succumb to this gasping virus, do so alone; a lonely death, in quarantine. The prediction, at this point, is that it has only yet begun.
And yet, amidst the grim, the deaths, the panic-buying, the distancing of physical contact, the losses of income, the disruption of common day life, something else slowly begins to emerge. It's subtle, gentle, swift-moving, yet, visible. It's been spotted in the canals of Venice, in the balconies of Italy, in trips to the grocery store, amongst medical staff all over the world, in 3-D printing machines, on social media, in sewing machines around the world, and even in the appreciation of long commutes. Its name; HOPE.
I realize the severity of our current situation, and yes call me a hopeless romantic, but I do believe in happy endings. I also believe that in times of despair, humanity learns to come together as one and whenever this occurs it creates a charge of electricity that helps to recharge the earth and all of its inhabitants with new surges of hope. Perhaps, in this storyline, HOPE returns to save its beloved; humankind and they bear a child and they name it HOPE-20. And they learn to live, yet again, happily ever after.
I'm inclined to think no one wants to be considered the mole in their organization. Sometimes, however, this "title" falls on people inadvertently. Consider the role of the interpreter. If we're doing our job well, we'll go through our session seemingly unnoticed, partaking in the provider's and client's conversation only when deemed absolutely necessary. And yet, we're ever so present watching every move made, listening to every word, understanding every meaning, analyzing, taking notes, rendering and..."Did that just happen?". Granted, we're absolutely bounded by HIPAA but what happens when there's a flaw in the system and you've just been a witness to it? What do you do when over and over again you notice that things aren't being done according to procedure or misinformation is continuously being shared with the client?
As interpreters, especially if you've been a part of an organization for a number of years, we get very familiarized with a department's procedures, paperwork process and/or systems. Often times, because of how many times we've gone through the process as interpreters, we could probably (verbally) offer the service better than the provider. And so, when something goes astray, we immediately catch it; we see it and when it happens too often; we report it. Or do we?
I've honestly found myself in many situations in which I've had to report back to my supervisor mishaps in policies. Because of the variety of settings we're in, we're able to see connections and where, if, they falter. There's been cases of state exams being inappropriately administered, information being relayed inaccurately during a meeting and so forth. I tend to think these aren't deliberate actions, but rather, areas in need of growth (after the face palm. I am human after all).
No one wants to be deemed "the mole" in their organization but we all want to do what's right (right?). Bringing forth information (not violating HIPAA law) that you know, should it continue, could harm the organization you work for and ultimately those you service, shouldn't make you feel like a mole. Rather, think of it as being an observer and only bringing forth what your heart knows isn't right.
For those of us (I hope it's most of us) that follow our interpreter guidelines; we tend to have minimal to no direct communication with those for whom we interpret. But every now and then, comes the one individual that merely wants to say, "gracias" (thank you). Today was one of those days. I was interpreting for a large-audience event for which there were several speakers presenting. One of which I'm not certain whether she was new to the whole public speaking thing, or just nervous or (sorry to say) just plain bad; but it was SO difficult to follow her. I couldn't hear her, she wouldn't finish her sentences or would jump into an entirely different point and the re-shift back to her original point; just bad to interpret for. Yet my desperation wasn't so much for me, rather, it was for the LEP audience that I felt was going to get nothing out of this (and yes possibly blame it on the interpreter). At least the English-only audience could follow the PowerPoint. She was sort of forced to take a 5 minute intersession (phew!). At which point, one member of the Spanish-speaking audience got up and was heading right towards me (gulp). I had a feeling she was going to tell me something about not understanding or following the message. I asked her if her equipment was working properly and if she could hear me okay. She said yes and the followed it with, "I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for interpreting into a language I understand and for speaking it so clearly. I'm enjoying the event and the information being provided" (insert jaw drop). It felt SO good! I proceeded to thank her and tell her I was being challenged and was feeling rather disappointed with myself and my interpreting ability with this particular speaker. She said, "Well I think God sent me to make sure you knew this because I kept feeling the need to come and tell you this." Then she gave me a hug and walked back to her area (insert heart melt).
Ironically, the Key note speaker came following (let's just call her the new speaker) and guess what his message was about? That's right, you guessed it; the power of words, how words have the power to lift a person or bring them down.
To my fellow interpreters out there, don't beat yourself up. As long as you're speaking from the heart, deliberately wanting to deliver the meaning of your speaker's message so that their message also rings truth and relevance to their non-English speaking audience; you're doing a phenomenal job and thank you for that!
Being a Community Interpreter definitely has no dull moments. Every encounter is very unique. My setting consists of education staff, medical staff, psychologists social workers, therapists, administrators, parents, and students among others. Due to a variety of needs, the modes of interpreting often changes depending on the setting, thus, allowing me to stay sharp on my modes. I take my role very seriously (I'd like to think most professional interpreters do) and it's taken our organization a number of years to change the organizational culture when it comes to language interpreters. We've moved on (for the most part) from, "can you help translate this very quickly?" to "How long would it take to for you to help translate this?" or from, "are you the translator?" to "are you the translator, I mean interpreter?" (insert high-five). Hey, it's the little things that matter most right?
Trained, professional interpreters are slowly but surely beginning to plug their way into community settings and inevitably bringing their training with them. One can only hope that these trained individuals find their way into schools systems so that we may then, collectively, begin to bring awareness of the profession and its importance within our educational systems. If you are currently in a school district that still continues to be challenged by understanding the difference between a bilingual employee and an interpreter; I encourage you to take part in a community interpreter training and begin to have honest conversations to help raise the bar in your organization.