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Class, Climate & Collapse: Webinar            Sunday, October 23

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Sexual Exploitation and Male Domination: Webinar                    November 18    or                    November 20

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Language Liberation and Respectful Waiting

We had a large Swazi contingent at our recent Regional workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa. Before the workshop, the organizer asked people to volunteer for jobs, and I offered to coordinate the interpreting. 

We agreed to have upfront interpreting—the first time that had happened. I wrote to everyone, asking them where they were from, what their native language was, and whether they were willing to do upfront interpreting. Seven young Swazis volunteered to interpret into iSiswati. A woman from Namibia wrote that her native language was Khoekhoegowab and that she hoped someone could interpret for her. Khoekhoegowab is one of the most ancient languages, and not many people speak it anymore. However, she had a second language that someone could interpret into.

After the workshop I asked the leader, Bafana Matsebula, how it had gone for him working with interpreters for the first time. He replied, “It made a whole world of difference. It gave me a chance to pause, a chance to think. For a first effort, I say it was perfect.”

Some Swazi interpreters wanted to translate some RC texts, to become familiar with the appropriate iSiswati words for RC terminology. Most of the interpreters were enthusiastic and keen to improve.

Did people discharge more? I think they did, but there still may be a long way to go. Since the workshop I’ve had big sessions telling the story of language in my family, in particular of the loss of Yiddish—a language that my mother spoke, read, and loved—as a living and respected language.

In 2015 I visited the death camp Birkenau with thirty-five other Co-Counsellors as part of a Healing from the Hurts of War Workshop. Near where the gas chambers had once been were about twenty plaques inscribed in the different languages that had been spoken in the camp. At one point people from different countries read the plaques that were in their languages. Then we came to one with Hebrew lettering. An Israeli said, “Oh, that’s Yiddish.” So I said, “Let me try.” And painstakingly—since it’s been over thirty years since I tried to learn a bit of Yiddish—the words came slowly to me out of the letters. Everyone waited patiently until I had finished.

It was that respectful waiting while I struggled to read the language—a language that had been destroyed in that place and in many others like it—that remains with me and has the power to move me still.

For those who don’t get to speak their native language often in public spaces, it is the respectful waiting while they interpret into their native language, whether anyone else in the room understands it or not, that allows them to remember their home, their childhood, or a former identity—to feel the textures of these things, to hear the sounds of earlier times, and to discharge the loss of them.

Margaret Green

Cape Town, South Africa

(Present Time 191, April 2018)


Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00