Refugees with supply stock ruptures

02 September 2008 Comments

Translation is never easy - i took languages in university... but i realised it more when i started working for msf.

last year while in bangladesh, we had a fairly lengthy document that needed translation into bangla. it's a tricky process, even for the translators we had on staff (they focus on verbal translation) because of a different alphabet, and it's hard to even find a program to allow you to type it in the computer (even after you memorise the new key assignments). so i sent it off to the translating service and asked them to do it.

A few days after i sent the completed translation to the project i got a phone call from a very amused project coordinator.

'Did any of you read this?' she asked.

Obviously i hadn't (not too good at reading bangla at this point - continues to this day).

'No.... i just took the package and sent it to you guys... is there a problem?'

'Yeah, actually, not the body of the document, more the translation of our name'

In our docs, it's always 'medecins sans frontieres' so i'm thinking the classic, medicine without borders" or "medicine without limits" or "doctors gone wild" or something wierd... but this was the best...

They'd translated us to 'border dwellers without medicine'. best. translation. ever.

So yes, the translators changed it, slight modification, and a very amused project team.

Then i got here... and tok pisin is a tricky language. there are words that have a number of meanings, and get used in all different contexts. every english word can be replaced by 4 or 5 pisin words, which in turn could all mean 4 or 5 english words each...

So for our tok pisin translation we got the equivilant of doctors without fences (pisin word closest to border really). the word for fences is 'banis' and is akin to 'border' or 'boundary'. so conveys closest to the idea that we want. we are "doktors i nogat banis."

And then after finally deciding, everyone agreeing, signs made, stationary used, months into program, we find out that 'banis' is also used for some other terms. so in addition to doctors without borders, we are also calling ourselves:

Doctors without condoms
Doctors without vaccines.

Ha! basically the word 'banis' is now being used to indicate a whole bunch of barriers, barriers that are really good!

Sometimes you just have to stop trying to fit in, because it ain't gonna work. from now on, we'll be known by the french or english name... that's it. although if i manage to translate "border dwellers without medicine" into pisin, i may try to convince the management team to adopt it as our in country title.

and on that note, anyone who can work out what the title of this blog is in english, then you win my praise and respect. and the people i already told aren't allowed to answer.