Monday, November 06, 2006


Once a week or so, I go down to the law school here- which does one of the few truly good things at this place: it helps asylum applicants- and I work as an interpreter.

Since I’m translating French, most of the clients I work with are Africans. So think of the francophone countries that are currently unstable: Ivory Coast, Congo, Mali, Cameroon. Civil war, corruption, murder, families being vanished, houses seized, forced labor, secret prisons, the hopelessness of escaping only to see one’s family struggle in abject poverty 3000 miles away: these are the stories I translate. The lawyers have to ask terribly detailed questions: Why didn’t you take your birth certificate with you while fleeing across a river in the dead of night? How many of them were there? What exactly did they use to whip you? Why did no-one come when you screamed?

It is absolutely heart-wrenching. Without breaking anyone’s confidentiality, let me say that rape and murder are some of the nicer things the client have been through. I once had to translate, on the spot, a forty-page affidavit detailing exactly how someone had been tortured. I went to a court case that had been denied by INS the first time because the client could not remember exactly how many soldiers broke into her home and beat her.

I know it’s better- much, much, infinitely better- to translate it than to live it. I know I’m providing a needed service. I do what I can. But it is never, never enough.

I pray, God the All-Forgiving, may it be Your will to be a guide and a redeemer unto all who bring pain and suffering to their fellows beings on Your earth. Merciful One, may You grant peace to those who ache for consolation, and strengthen our hands and our wills as we strive to mend what we have broken. May You grant us mercy and comfort. May You bring a lasting peace, soon, swiftly, in our lifetimes. Amen.


  1. Amen.
    Bless you for being present to them.

  2. Anonymous1:58 PM


  3. Amen. And I wish you all strength in your work.

  4. Oh, my. That must be so difficult. But I'm glad you're there to do it.

  5. Thank you, everyone. It's a good reminder to me to be grateful for what I have, for sure.


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