Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When a "literal" translation is not accurate (from Jennings in Goma)

In Scripture translation, we're aiming at four goals, which are sometimes in tension. We want the translation to be: 1) accurate, 2) clear and easy to understand, 3) natural-sounding rather than stilted or "foreign" and 4) acceptable to users (especially the local church leaders).

Of these, my first responsibility as a consultant is to try to ensure accuracy. If the translation don't reflect the meaning of the original text, then it doesn't matter how clear or natural it is, it isn't a good translation. So I need to be sure that nothing has been added, omitted or changed.

But accurate is not the same as literal. Sometimes a translation can be very literal -- even word-for-word -- and yet be completely inaccurate. That's because meaning doesn't just come from the text, from the words. It comes from the text plus the context: the linguistic, cultural and historical context of the original language and how it fits -- or doesn't fit -- with the context of the target language.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dispatch from Goma: "Say My Name" (...or don't, that's fine, too) by Jennings

Aimée is fascinated. With me. She stands on the veranda outside the office and tries to catch my eye, then gives me a small, shy wave. I give a small wave back and a smile. She walks away, then comes back again a few minutes later. This goes on for hours. Aimée is 5 years old, and I've known her since she was a baby, since 2009, when I first started coming here to Goma a couple of times a year. Her father is the caretaker for the translation office compound, and she has 4 older siblings and a baby brother, Manu, who is not quite 1 year old and is walking.


Manu, back in February (before he could walk)

When the translators have left, I go outside and sit on the steps with Aimée and Manu. She strokes my (fascinating) pink, furry arm. We play a game, with my limited Swahili:

Me (pointing to Aimée): What is your name?
Aimée (softly): Aimée
Me (pointing to Manu): What is his name?
Aimée (again softly): Manu
Me: And what is my name? Do you know?
Aimée (looks up with a big smile): Muzungu!

Right, close enough. I could tell her what my name is, but she knows me as Muzungu, and that's all right. People seldom address me here by name, anyway... I'm not sure it's quite polite to use first names. So people call me "Madame" or "Mama" or "Madame Douglas", if they know Douglas' name. As for "Muzungu"... I've never been crazy about that name, but I'm coming to terms with it. Especially when it's used with obvious respect or affection. Or by a little cutie like Aimée.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Healthcare Among Friends - Part 2

Another tale of friendship and surgery, this one far more serious. You will notice that, as in the last post, there are a lot of "as it happens" in this story. Lots of happy coincidences. Some of these I attribute to the fact that Congolese society is highly networked and inter-dependent, with lots of unexpected connections between people I never would have guessed knew each other. I also can't help but see God's hand in how things came together. Here's the story:

The head translator for one of the projects we work with, Pierre, had known for some time that he needed prostate surgery. He lives up north in an area that does not have great hospitals. But a couple of hours outside of Bunia, in a town called Nyankunde, there is a very good hospital, furnished and supported by Samaritan's Purse. It is well-known throughout the region. That is where Pierre hoped to have this surgery.
Pierre, head translator for the Bible in his language. During tea time at the translation office.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Healthcare Among Friends (Part 1)

A few months ago, I (Jennings) noticed a sore on my face that wouldn't heal, and I began to be suspicious of it. Back home in the U.S., I would call or email my dermatologist to make an appointment; the spot would be removed (if needed); and the insurance company would have sorted out how much I owed (perhaps a hundred dollars or more).

Here, it works differently. Here, you use the friend network.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Celebrating Mother-tongue Languages (by Douglas)

We (Douglas and Bagamba) participated in the commemoration of International Mother Languages Day in Bunia on 21 and 22 Feb 2014. Here are a few highlights:
Bagamba says that an important step in saving an endangered language
is clarifying the objective of your intervention.
Douglas introduces the subject of the Vanuma community
before presenting an evaluation of the state of health of the Vanuma language.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Friendship and gratitude

When Douglas lived in Congo in the 90s, before the war, he became good friends with a pastor and his wife. Their son Blaise was gifted in school and wanted to study medicine, so Douglas agreed to help pay his expenses. That was some 10 years ago, before we got married.

Since then, our pastor friend was given a post at Shalom University as chaplain, which brought the couple to Bunia, where we live. They have been some of our very best friends in town, though we don't see them as often as we'd like. Blaise is still in medical school, in a faraway city, Kindu. It has taken longer than expected for a variety of reasons - none of them his fault - and he has persevered and done well. Just before Christmas, Blaise came to Bunia, and the three of them came to our house for a celebration.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Snapshots of December 2013

A few photos from December in Bunia. This is a wood carving of the Nativity (it's hard to make it out in this photo, sorry) that we bought from a local artist. I had been decorating the house with Christmas cards we received from the U.S. in previous years, and I was struck at how, well, white all the figures were - the angels, Jesus, Mary. It made me appreciate all the more this depiction of Jesus in an African context, in African art.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Confronting Congolese Doubts about Local Language ("Mother Tongue") Development and Bible Translation

A few weeks ago, President Joseph Kabila came to town for a few days. Among the groups he planned an audience with was UNADI, a coalition of 21 ethnic groups. They are concerned that their parliamentary representatives (MPs) serve their party and not the people they represent. So these ethnic communities wanted their representatives to talk with the president about how they can help themselves without relying on government. They voted on 3 people to represent them in that meeting. One of them was Douglas' partner and our dear friend, Dr Bagamba Araali.

Bagamba and Douglas in front of the Bible translation office in Bunia
He and the representatives arrived where President Kabila was staying at 7 AM, as instructed. And they waited....

Monday, November 4, 2013

Musings on some signboards (by Douglas)

Back when Congo was a colony of Belgium, it was decided to use French as the language of national administration. That's why even more than fifty years after the country achieved independence, we use French every day.

But almost no one in Bunia is a mother-tongue speaker of French. That means that we encounter nuances of French usage here that we don't see anywhere else. I present as examples three signboards in our general neighborhood.

One is on a roadside restaurant run by "la Brune". This is related to the English word brunet / brunette ('brown-haired'). In France, this would mean that the woman who runs it is darker than others: at least having brown eyes and brown hair, if not tanned. Here, it means that the woman who runs it is fair-skinned by local standards, i.e. brown rather than black.

A little further down the road is a shoe-repair shop marked "Coordonnerie". The usual French word is "cordonnerie", staffed by a "cordonnier". (The English equivalent "cordwainer" is not in common use -- that's an example of my trademark understatement.) What has happened is that people have been influenced by the verb "coordonner" 'to coordinate' and the noun "coordination" (which is how one marks some offices of people who run things). You want your shoes to be repaired by a responsible and well-coordinated specialist, don't you?

Around the corner and down a block there is a "Cafétariat". This begins like "cafeteria" (an eating establishment) and ends like "Secrétariat" -- again, an office where important work gets done. So, after you drop off your shoes for the attention of the coordinated cordwainer, you can grab a bite at the high-level professional café.

There's more to many things than meets the eye...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Perseverance: the life of a Bible Translator (by Jennings)

     In September, I was scheduled to work again with the Tembo translation team. Because of recent fighting in Goma, where they live, we asked them to come up here to Bunia. We planned to check 1 and 2 Peter and James. This time, we were joined by a Congolese consultant-in-training, Dr Londroma. Though still officially "in training" as a consultant, he is far more experienced than the rest of us: he worked for 30 years as a translator on the Lendu Bible, which was completed last year. His knowledge gave us a broader understanding of the translation process. With his help, we finished our planned checking a week early (!) and started on 1 Corinthians. It was a pleasure to work alongside him and to benefit from his experience.
He was also able to joke around with the translators in a way that I - a foreigner and a woman - will probably never will be able to. It was a sweet thing to see how comfortable they are with each other.

     But perhaps the greatest blessing Dr. Londroma brought us was his perspective on life as a Bible translator.
     As we were sharing prayer requests at the end, one of the translators asked for prayer for “perseverance”. We all knew what he meant. Already this year, two project members have had to move because their rent went up; they are not always able to pay school fees and medical bills; and – just last month – their city was bombed in fighting between a militia group and the army. Some of their neighbors were hurt or killed. The fighting has raised both the level of stress in people’s lives and the cost of living.

     None of these are new issues; insecurity and financial difficulties have always been part of their daily life in Goma. When we're together, they update me (often reluctantly... they don't like to "bother" us with these problems) and we pray. This time, however, was different, because we had with us a Congolese translator with 30 years' experience. He can hear them, and he can truly relate in a way that I cannot. He knows what it is to live on little or no financial support; he has lost a son to ethnic conflict; he has seen others with his qualifications earning much more and receiving more honor. He shared his stories with them. He encouraged them to depend on God, to persevere, to be ready to suffer for Christ, to be humble, to accept that translators do not receive the recognition that pastors and other church staff do. He also urged them to look for other ways to support themselves financially and to prepare for the future. He could speak to them as one who knows what their lives are like and who has suffered as they do, because of the conviction that his people needed the Scriptures in their language. By the end of the meeting, there were tears in all our eyes.

     This is an encouraging glimpse of what we are working toward: Congolese translators working with Congolese consultants, who are able to understand and speak to them in ways that expats cannot. I thank God for this.