The Linguist

The Linguist 58,4 - Aug/Sept 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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14 The Linguist Vol/58 No/4 2019 FEATURES Anam Zafar finds her language skills in huge demand in Lesvos, providing valuable services to refugees in the island's camps It is 9am. The school bell rings. Metal clinks against ceramic as the first tea is served. Water splashes as faces are washed. Morning greetings echo across the square. In a community with a population of just over 1,000, you may expect the greetings to share a common language – but they don't. In Kara Tepe, on the Greek island of Lesvos, you'll hear greetings in Greek, yes, but also in Arabic, English, Farsi, Kurdish, Pashto and perhaps Urdu. This is because Kara Tepe is a community of travellers. Forced travellers primarily from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who have left their homes due to violence and insecurity, and travellers of solidarity from Europe and further afield, who come to volunteer in this place of limbo, where refugees can be stuck for months, even years. I decided to volunteer in Lesvos while living in Jordan as an Arabic and French undergraduate. The conversations I had with Syrian, Palestinian and Yemeni friends there turned the news stories about the refugee crisis into something real. Unease grew within me as I considered the kindness shown to me – a year-abroad student with laughable knowledge of the Jordanian dialect – in Jordan, while those making the reverse journey into Europe, literally running from danger, were risking their lives on the way. Who was really in need of hospitality here? So, this March, I flew to Lesvos with funding from the CIOL Nick Bowen Award to contribute to the aid effort for six weeks and put my Arabic skills to use. I volunteered with Movement On The Ground (Movement), and was involved in a range of linguistic activities, exposing me to the Iraqi and Syrian Arabic dialects more than ever before, occasionally enabling me to polish my rusty Urdu, and even allowing me to learn some Farsi. Linguists required I worked mostly in Kara Tepe, which houses people deemed most vulnerable – mainly families with children, and unwell or disabled individuals. Movement's mission here is "to create a blueprint for future refugee camps that will make camps more dignified, self- sustainable… most importantly it is about empowering the camp residents". And it shows: international and resident volunteers work side by side, and the infrastructure and services are incomparable to the island's renowned Moria camp. There is no typical day for a Movement volunteer: shifts may take you to the clothes shop, kitchens, vegetable patch, children's cinema or anything in between. Being a linguist adds more variety: residents can become formal volunteer interpreters, while international volunteers can become ad hoc interpreters at any moment. In this multinational community, set within a life- changing humanitarian situation, effective communication is vital. Not only does the presence of interpreters show residents that what they say is being taken seriously, but a resident interpreter understands the cultural implications too. On my first day, I interpreted for a new Syrian family during their first clothes shop appointment. Once a family is known, their native language is noted down so that the appropriate interpreter can be booked. I continued to work as shop interpreter for new Arab families when a resident interpreter was not present, and soon became known as "the international volunteer who speaks Arabic". This meant being asked by residents to accompany them to the UN desk, or camp manager's office, to discuss anything from being transferred to Athens to having given birth the night before. Rusty vocabulary was constantly pulled from my memory. One of my regular jobs was interpreting for international volunteers during gardening shifts. The resident gardeners only spoke Arabic and most internationals had little gardening experience, so it was important that instructions were well understood. My presence also gave the Syrian men an opportunity to explain their backgrounds to FINDING REFUGE IMAGES © MOVEMENT ON THE GROUND

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