Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lost Without Translation

Each day, discussions are held here in the office in Dili, Timor-Leste, with non-English speakers about important aspects of our program -- how to structure the formation of a new association, how to devise a mechanism for a trust fund and how to develop a fund-raising strategy. Semi-complex concepts -- discussed through a translator.

You cross your fingers that most of the material being discussed is understood.

Then, an incident happens that shakes your confidence.

Mind you, this was supposed to be a simply request. In English, I asked our admin assistant, who speaks a couple of words of English, if she would buy four cartons of water instead of two -- and I gave her an extra ten dollars to cover the extra water.

She smiled and said "ok."

An hour later, two cartons of water arrive and then the admin assistant walks in with two cakes.

On second thought: maybe I didn't say please bring two cartons. I think I said bring two cases -- which sort of sounds like two cakes.

Maybe, too, it's time to learn Tetum!

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