I’ve been meaning to write an article on this subject for a long time, but now is the right moment to do it.
Aleppo just fell – and this horrible news touches me at a visceral level. This year has had its fair share of awful news that may have long-term consequences. Brexit in June, Trump in November. You may wonder what these political events have to do with an annual professional event.
After several decades of dismantling political, economic and physical barriers, the world now seems to be set on a course of becoming more insular, more inward-looking. As if humanity had been busy building a new tower of Babel in an attempt to attain a universal good, to experience an everlasting “end of history” – only to wake up to the harsh reality of a new wave of sectarian violence in some parts of the world, and masses of disillusioned and disenfranchised voters elsewhere.
As a conference organizer, I’ve been trying hard to find a speaker who would talk about the possible consequences of a new political order; in which English may be losing its status as a dominant working language of the European Union, in which international trade may be plummeting due to an unpredictable new administration in the United States, in which some tongues, such as Russian or Chinese, may gain significance as source languages. I have yet to find such a speaker, so this is part of the reason why I’m writing this article.
Against all odds I firmly believe that we, as translators and interpreters, are wired to be exposed to other cultures, other worldviews. In fact, we are the very people who bridge these differences; we are the foot soldiers in the eternal fight for mutual understanding. I firmly believe that by bringing together such translators and interpreters from around the world, we can experience something unique: the feeling that we matter, the feeling that what we have to say matters. Also, by building an international community of like-minded individuals whose job is to facilitate communication, we can perhaps make at least a small contribution to make this world a better place.
On a more personal level, traveling and languages have shaped me more than anything else – and I know most of our colleagues share this view. I feel deeply affected by recent conflicts around the world. My first foreign language was Russian – and as a reward for winning a local language contest in my home town at the age of 13, I spent two weeks in a Soviet pioneer camp. A couple of years ago the region around my former youth camp became the hotspot of the separatist movement of East Ukraine.
Six years later, when Hungary was still in the Eastern Bloc, and Britain was run by a female prime minister, I visited the House of Commons. I was inspired by the ideal of centuries-long parliamentary democracy – in a country where the majority of voters now opted to stay out of the European Union that used to be a dream destination for countries in the less fortunate half of Europe.
Another five years later my first oriental journey took me to Syria, with Aleppo being the first stop. Here I experienced for the first time that even though I cannot read the script, and many people dress differently from what I had been used to, they are still open-hearted and welcoming, and a universal sense of humanity connects us. When I see the fall of this ancient city, a part of me is dying – the unquestionable faith in human progress.
A few years ago, on my wife’s 40th birthday, we walked down on 5th Avenue, visiting the odd skyscraper – yes, even that one near 57th street. Back then it was simply an eerily empty block, not the sealed-off lair of a potential real-life Bond villain.
When I was half of my age today, I chose to become a freelance translator so that I can travel more and explore the world. Freelancing gave me the necessary means and the necessary freedom to do just that. Travels have opened me up even more – and also more alert to the events around the world. Wherever I’ve been, the aspect I enjoyed the most has always been interacting with people. Listening to locals talking about their lives, loves, and laughs. Bargaining on the market in the local lingo. Talking to fellow travelers.
This is the most important reason why I’m so passionate about organizing conferences for fellow translators and interpreters. I know most of the colleagues who attend our events think along the same lines. Similis simili gaudet.
BP17 Translation Conference Budapest. 4-5-6 May, 2017. Business + Practice for freelance translators and interpreters. Web: www.bpconf.com. Facebook: http://bit.ly/BP17Fb