Turtle Bay, the neighborhood of the United Nations here in Midtown Manhattan, is not exactly a hardship post for our interpreters. The biggest trauma most of them encounter in their work is the lack of ice water in their translation booths. But others in our trade work under much more difficult circumstances, in great discomfort, and at risk of life and limb. I’ve posted in the past on efforts among the translation community to help protect our professional colleagues who work in harm’s way. These efforts are still taking shape, and to learn more I wanted to talk to linguists on the front line. Roland, one of our commenters, turned me on to Sam-K, former interpreter in Iraq, who writes a killer blog, Interpreters Life in Iraq War. Sam and I did an interview by email, and I tweaked it for typos that affect meaning, but otherwise left it intact, since I love the way this guy uses English.
Are you a citizen of Iraq?
Yes I’m Iraqi born and raised and my 30 granpa iraqi as well..
Are you a soldier? What is your affiliation with the US Army?
No I aint soldier, you can say im a contractor with American company that did contract with US Military..i mean I used to be, cuz i dont work Interp any more.
Where did you learn your English?
emmm, from Music the most and right now im listening to ” Black Label Society, SDMF” and i’ve learned english from school and movies also plus the soldiers and Marines taught me some too.
Did you receive any special training from the US government?
Negative, i havn’t
How long did you work as an interpreter?
Almost 2 years..
Why did you decide to become an interpreter?
to revenge from insurgents and deny the myth that says “US does all the bombing in iraq”, and of course to get some money too 🙂
Do you work in military operations, or civil affairs, or both?
i worked with task forces “military operations” in amid clashed and IED’s.
Do you like your job? What do you like about it? What do you hate about it?
It was fun! not all the time though, I like the crazy things and the risk, I liked helping the ppl who cudnt help them selves, but their came times that i hated the time where i spent in learning english, like when IED goes off by me, or hearing the sounds of shots goin by me and knowing that im in the edge of death,i also hated the service in the FOB’s, no good showers, no good food, things were sucks.
What is the hardest part of being an interpreter?
Forcing yourself in not disclosing your ID or where you live ” being Liar” be a liar to any local asks you any personal question..
How do Iraqis and Americans treat you on the job?
there came times good and there times bad from the both sides..
Do your friends and family know what you did for work?
No, but my family right now they all know, but my friends they still dont know and they wont, its not abut if i trust them or not, but its just something they shud not know..
Do Iraqis think you are a traitor to Iraq?
Yea most of Iraqis think that..
Have people’s attitudes changed since the killing has slowed down?
yea just a lil bit, but their attitudes might return back bad if things gets worse by the new govt forming..
Do you think wearing a big red T would help people to understand what you are trying to do, or is it likely to make you a target?
The Red T is the idea of Maya Hess, an interpreter here in NYC. She wants to change people’s attitudes about interpreters by getting people to think of interpreters as humanitarian workers instead of as traitors or enemies. So she thinks it might be a good idea for interpreters to wear a big red “T” on their back, just like you would see a red cross or crescent on an ambulance. Do you think that is a good idea? Would you want to wear a big red T?
no, i wont wear that shirt in iraq, but i might will wear it anywhere else, cuz in iraq its like calling “Hello Im Translator, come and get me!!” lol
but in NYC i might will..
What was your proudest moment as an interpreter?
one of my interp friends with translating for the US soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and there were amid clashes, he cudnt stand and he almost piss on himself, but i asked them to send me to replace the interp, i risked my life cuz my friend was so afraid, this is something that im proud of…
What was your worst moment as an interpreter?
in one of the operations, a guy came to our truck and he started yelling at us “Allah Akbar” he scared the hell out of us, so the gunner had to tell him to get away and raise his hands and shirt, we thought he was a suicidal, he didnt stop and then he took off running we followed him by the truck and asking him to stop, but he didnt stop, so we had to shoot him cuz he was goin downtown, and we thought this cud be ambush, so we shot him, and then it appeared that he was [mentally ill]!
i still having nightmares about that day.
Why did you stop interpreting for the Army?
i stopped working cuz i had to finish my college and get my degree, and hopefully i’l get my degree in less then 2 months from now.. [check out Sam’s latest post about his graduation]
Posted with respect and kudos for all our professional brothers and sisters who risk all to help all across the language barrier.