Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lost in Translation (Tues/Wed Feb 15-16 - Days 7-8)

The last two days were devoted to a meeting to formulate the curriculum for the first Farmers of the Future pilot sites. In our next post, John will share his beautiful explanation of the program, but first I have two funny stories to tell dealing with French/English communication.

There were about 20 participants in the meeting - from the National Ministry of Education; from ICRISAT (the plant research station headed by Dov Pasternak, the Israeli agricultural scientist who conceived Farmers of the Future); from FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN; and from partner NGOs, including Eliminate Poverty Now and Pencils for Kids.

Of the group, only three of us (John, Robin Mednick and me) were not fluent in French. So we had arranged for simultaneous translation. For the most part, this was helpful, although it was hard for the translator to keep up when a speaker was particularly excited or upset, and speaking quickly. And it was hard for a speaker to slow down when he was particularly excited or upset. (Meanwhile, I was trying to take complete notes of the meeting for later distribution. I typed for two full days - my fingers are an inch shorter.)

It was also difficult for the translator to deal with metaphors. He tended to translate them literally - probably because he was not familiar with some of the English expressions John used. But the funniest time was yesterday, as John was describing the qualities we should look for in the ideal champion of the Farmers of the Future program: he should be passionate about the project, articulate, a strong motivator, work effectively with people, be able to access and influence key stakeholders, able to tap good local talent, and someone who has time to monitor progress on project implementation.

John wrapped up this list, joking that it would be great if that person also "walks on water."

No one laughed. That wasn't really a surprise - they were waiting for the translation. But when it came, it seemed that the translator (no doubt Muslim, along with most everybody else in the room) had understood John's "walks" to be "works" - and he had John saying that it would be great if the person also "travaille dans l'industrie hydroelectrique" - "works in the hydroelectric industry." It was hysterical!

And last night, I found a way to provide additional comic relief. (People who know me know that embarrassing myself in a foreign language is a favorite activity. Right Ruth, Liz and now Claire?) I was telling Fati Madougou, wife of the former mayor - and an elegant lady - that I wasn't worried about getting malaria because I had "mangé les médecins". I should have said I had "pris les médicaments" (taken the medicine). What I actually said was that I had eaten the doctors!


  1. LOL oh my ... I can just imagine Uncle John being like ... uh wait that's not what I meant nevermind...

    LOL and you ate the doctor!!!! What did the lady say when you said that? I hope she understood what you meant to say!