Lost in translation

Working through translators are par for the course in this job. Even our here in Angola where my Portuguese is slowly slowly improving, if it’s a particularly important matter where we really can’t have any confusion I will use a translator (the extent of my vocabulary is somewhat limited!)

Even so, occasionally what we are saying, no matter how clear we try to be, something’s get ‘lost in translation’.

I was having a good belly laugh with one of my colleagues yesterday about our experiences…

She was speaking with a supervisor about the amount of work he was doing. She thought he had taken on more than he could cope with and so told him he had ‘bitten off more than he could chew’. He said ok but looked quite dejected.

She returned a week later around lunchtime and found him not eating. Now in Cambodia when food is up for grabs, it generally disappears fairly quickly but no matter how much she offered he continue to refuse the food.

When she eventually managed to extract the reason why, she established that the week before her translator had translated ‘bitten off more than you chew’ to be “she thinks you eat too much” and so ever since the poor bloke had been starving himself!

.     You have to wonder how red painted sticks can cause SUCH confusion!

In Mozambique my colleague was on a money saving campaign and was trying to find ways to cut costs. We mark our minefields with red painted sticks and he recognised that a lot of paint was being used painting the entire stick when really painting the top would suffice.

Through his translator, he instructed his supervisors to just paint the top half of the stick from now on….or so he thought!

He returned to the minefields the following week to see several deminers NOT demining and instead they were methodically scrapping all the paint off the bottom half of marking sticks. When he asked why the supervisor replied that the previous week he had given the strict instruction that from now on “all minefields are only allowed to have half painted sticks”!

Occasionally if we are clearing minefields on a site which had been the scene of heavy fighting during the war we find bones of a soldier who succumbed to his death on the battlefield. A colleague had been on such a minefield one day and given that these bones have been there for such a long time and any family long since gone, it is impossible to locate any relatives to remove the bones.

So she instructed her supervisor to inform the local police before conducting a small ceremony and burying the bones.

Returning a few weeks later she asked, through her translator, whether the supervisor had conducted the ceremony for the ‘skeleton’. The supervisor looked confused so she asked; did you tell the police about the ‘skeleton’? He again looked confused but said yes, he had spoken to the police about the site.

She persisted and asked ‘well did you buy some rice and coca cola to give as an offering to the skeleton before it was buried?’ He looked even more confused so she went to the site of the bones, they were gone so she assumed her instruction had been followed.

It wasn’t until later in the day when her translator asked if she could show him a skeleton because he hadn’t seen one before! Now it was she who looked confused. She asked him to clarify and established that her translator thought a ‘skeleton’ was a type of landmine and so had actually been asking the supervisor ‘did he do a ceremony with rice for a landmine?’ and ‘did he inform the police before he buried the landmine?’ Etc…

No wonder the poor supervisor looked thoroughly confused!

I must remember to not use colloquial sayings when I speak through translators…I dread to think how ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and ‘if life deals you lemons make lemonade’ might end up being translated!


A pig stamping in mud and a curly stick with a flower

So how was YOUR weekend?

What a weekend I’ve just had. Talk about random!

Saturday was a typical working day, busy but we only work until lunchtime so not too bad normally. I have been so snowed under this week that I’ve not had time for any decent exercise so I was desperate to do something, anything on Saturday afternoon.

It was looking likely and I was literally heading out the door with my trainers on and ipod in hand when my colleague approached me looking a little bit anxious and quite pale.

She told me one of our guard dogs had just bitten a woman who was not sitting on the pavement outside our gate attracting an ever increasing mob of Angolans shouting all sorts about our savage mutt.

We patched the woman up and took her to hospital for a check over but to cut a long story short I spent my Saturday afternoon in a crazy casualty department – and I tell you, you ain’t seen nothing until you’ve seen Angolan casualty on a Saturday afternoon!

I stood there for hours looking slightly ridiculous in my running kit next to a crying woman who I’ve never met trying to reassure her in my best Portuguese whilst explain to some rather uninterested nurses what had happened – no mean feat when you don’t know the Portuguese words for ‘leg’ or ‘bitten’ so my explanation probably ended up sounding something like “lady walking, dog, here, bleeding, please look and help”.

By the time I had taken her home it was dark so I gave up on my exercise and went to bed!

.             Mmmm tasty! I meant to save this for Easter Sunday but my                    .               willpower disappeared after my very random Saturday

Sunday was the polar opposite – I had just received a parcel from home and had saved opening it until my day off so I spent my day listening to the awesome new Elbow album (thanks Pops), eating Cadbury’s chocolate (thanks Mum!) while I rummaged around searching for sellotape to stick my Goddaughter’s ace picture on my bedroom wall (thanks Looby!)

   Looby’s picture of a pig stamping in mud and a curly stick with a flower…!

It is unbelievable how little things like getting letters from home can mean such a big deal out here. I felt really quite homesick by Sunday night – but thankful that Saturday had been an anomaly….what little did I know!

Sunday night – phone call from the minefield – a driver had been seriously stung by a scorpion and was being evacuated to hospital…

Ah, so it would seem SUNDAY was the anomaly I thought to myself as the chaotic drama which is my life returned with a vengeance.

At least there’s no time for Sunday night blues in this job!

It’s a girl!

I’m delighted to announce little sis just had a baby girl!

Ruby Beth, 8lb 3oz.

Another girl to add to the clan!

Well done sis. I can’t wait to meet my new niece.

The most dangerous landmine in the world?

I have never taken the work of my deminers for granted. Having done the job myself – albeit briefly – their painstaking dangerous work is something to be held in the highest regard.

Now though, having arrived in Angola, my admiration has reached new levels.

This is a PPMiSr….a nasty anti personnel mine made in Czechoslovakia:

Close up PpMiSr hidden by leaves, you can just see the  metal lid of the mine.

With small pieces of metal sandwiched in between the inner and outer walls of the main body, when someone stands on the spike at the top of the mine it has a device which ejects it into the air and after a couple of seconds it explodes. As it explodes the metal pieces fly out.

Can you spot the spikey top of the mine? Being unable to spot them is what makes these landmines so dangerous to the local population who enter the area to cut wood or graze their cattle.

Closer up it’s a little easier to spot but still fairly hidden in the vegetation waiting for an unsuspecting victim.

In fact these mines are so dangerous that should one explode in the vicinity of someone it is essential that my guys wear specially designed PpMiSr protective body armour.

My hardy deminers hate it because it’s much more bulky and cumbersome than their usual protection, added to this these minefields are in one of the most baking hot and humid provinces.

My guys are working on minefields right now where we are finding these mines.