Last edited by NurAli
Sat, 25 Oct 2008 20:06 CEST [diff]

Title of the page/Titre

Istanbul, 03-10.10.08
Tr/Kr booth Malmö preliminary report (Ali)

The TR/KR coordinators were able to raise a much greater number of volunteers than in Athens, although all of them may not have had the required level of preparation. They were also able to include both Turkish and Kurdish interpreters. Complications started already at the Swedish consulate with difficulties to obtain visas. There were some problems in booth team programming. Many interpreters had to leave early on Sunday, while programmers could not establish the date and time of their return. Many were also frustrated at not being able to test themselves in normal conditions, or work at all.

A) What TR/KR coordinators managed to do

1) Numbers OK
This time a sufficient number of interpreters was provided for the Turkish booth (this had not been the case in Athens). This was due to the fact we had a long list of volunteers lying ready in the Babels database. It would be interesting to find out how so many volunteer interpreters for TR/KR found their way into the Malmö volunteers list.

2) Kurdish was present along with Turkish:
Another positive and interesting development was the fact that the team from Turkey also included interpreters in Kurdish, which was probably (with Sami perhaps) the only minority or domestic language actually translated during the Forum, most other languages being official national or ‘colonial,’ if not Imperial languages.
In other words, the team from Turkey was one of the rare teams to implement one of Babels declared principles, i.e., the provision of interpretation for indigenous, minority or non-official languages. (See Barish’s note on the use of the word national)

B) What TR/KR coordinators didn’t quite manage to do

Selection and preparation process: Lack of selection process, training & preparation

We were three or four coordinators, myself (Ali), Barish, Eren and Mehmet Kuzu, with Barish and Eren being particularly active. I had hoped to gather us at some meeting to discuss how we were to work and coordinate, but we were prevented from doing that by our different activities and the fact that some of us were in Istanbul and others in Ankara.

In the mean time, while each of us was working on preparing a provisional list of volunteers for our booth, Barish took the initiative to make up a list of people to contact out of the Babels candidate list. Left with a ‘fait accompli,’ we waited for seminar programs as we were told to do by the Babels central coordination group. We could have used this time to refine our selection process, organising training activities and other preparation work but lack of available material, the fact that it was holiday time and complications related to visas which took up a lot of our energy and time, prevented us to do so.

There was one minor technical point that complicated our task. In the candidate database, the linguistic evaluation columns were situated quite far to the left of the column identifying the volunteers so that the two kinds of columns do not appear on the screen at the same time. These language columns are also quite numerous (A1 A2 … written, oral, experienced, beginner…) so that one had to jump back and forth between them which led to losing track or confusion as to who could do what languages and to what extent. Putting these columns closer could make things easier. Experienced Excel user can probably switch columns as they like, but still, some standard solution to this could make evaluation easier.

Another problem we had in the preparation process was that we were told to wait until the seminar programs were ready and we had the definite number of interpreters needed before contacting our candidates to confirm their participation and get on with tickets reservations etc. Then while we were trying to find solutions to our selection problems, we suddenly learned that we only had a few days to confirm the list of interpreters ready to come. Barish was off on a trip in Anatolia and could not be reached, so before we could actually all consult each other, Eren picked up from there, taking the initiative to directly contact the candidates to confirm their commitment. He followed things from there until final selection, regularly updating our list of candidates and doing most of the follow up. This had to be made hastily, without sufficient prior testing or training. Together with Eren, we contacted the candidates to make succinct evaluations based on phone conversations and confirm their readiness to participate. I organised one or two introduction and training sessions where only two people turned up, the others being too busy trying to get visas.

In short, with little time for testing or training, we ended up with sufficient numbers, but with some questions about preparedness.

If there is one criticism that could be made to my fellow coordinators for the kr/tr booth it is their tendency to take initiatives (a good thing) on their own without prior consultation among us (not such a good thing). They also seemed to be somewhat over optimistic as to the preparedness of our volunteers. Other than that, they were very actively involved and greatly contributed to the selection process. I must also say that I had a heavy load of professional work at critical moments - especially at the beginning of the selection process, which also kept us from establishing an efficient coordination process and explains in part why they were led to act on their own initiative.

B) What worked and what didn’t in Malmö

All this way for nothing?
Thus, we arrived in Malmö with the numbers, but we (or at least I) didn’t quite know how we would ensure quality. Things were complicated by the fact that now that we had the numbers, there were practically no functioning booth (as we all know), and when there were, they were more than often occupied by interpreters of other languages.

In one case, one of the kr interpreter team got so frustrated as having to whisper during a seminar with a majority of tr/kr listeners while interpreters of other languages were working in the (relative) comfort of their booths, that they ended up storming one of the said booths, which happened to be the German one. Apart from frustration, this abrupt behaviour was probably due to the fact they only spoke kr and tr and could not find the polite words to explain their plight.

Generally, tr/kr interpreters were doubly frustrated since they had no way of testing themselves in normal conditions. Not only because of technical dysfunctions in the booths, or because they found themselves with more interpreters than needed or not enough, but also because some of the programmed seminars did not take place, or turned out to need other languages than the ones planned.

This was especially true for beginners, but experienced interpreters who had come as activists and who were looking forwards to be a part of what to them was an important event were also disappointed and frustrated at not being able to be of any use, leave alone testing themselves. As a result, we still haven’t been able to make a proper evaluation of our volunteers’ skills, even after the Forum.

Booth Team preparation
Booth team lists were delivered quite late, some interpreters finding themselves unable to wait for them since they had to leave early in order to reach their distant residence.
They were also not always adequate in terms of distribution of competence or balance between professionals, experienced and beginners, especially at the beginning, with some booths turning out to be inoperative because their interpreters were too inexperienced and could not do the job. After the first few days, one of the Tr/Kr coordinators joined the volunteers to help establish more balanced booth teams. This gave some results, and interpretation performance was improved.
Still, we felt the need to be able to communicate with cell phones or some other means, and a shared list of our phone numbers coupled with a local cell phone card would have been a great help. The last problem we had with booth planning was that we didn’t know who was leaving at what time on the last day of the Forum, so that the team planning became a complex equation

Accommodation and Logistics
Like other interpreters, those of the TR/KT booth had problems reaching the different seminar sites in time, and when they did reach them, they found that the seminars started quite late, if they started at all. Many had to spend a long time in trains or buses to reach distant accommodation. Others had to sleep in churches or other common premises in promiscuous conditions. Many volunteers complained about the distance between the seminar sites and that there was not time to reach the places where the meals were distributed between the seminars, especially in the evenings, so that many ended up going to the restaurant and paying their meals from their pockets.

Travel and Visa Problems
One of the most frustrating and stress causing processes however was that of obtaining Visas. It is tempting to say that the Swedish Consulate treated interpreters from the TR/KR booths pretty much like the organising committee has been accused of doing, i. e., like slaves, with this difference that volunteers were at one point asked to produce working permits under the pretext that their travel costs were being paid.

It was a process of psychological torture, with Consulate employees playing cat & mouse with the interpreters, telling them to bring a long list of documents in the morning, and another but just as long list of documents in the afternoon (the previous list having turned out to be obsolete). Most interpreters did not know whether they would obtain their visa until the last minute, some almost having to cancel and renew their tickets, because they couldn’t confirm their reservation within deadlines.

Some volunteers were also not happy about the way they were given little choice by Babels travels volunteers who seemed to be saying take that flight on such dates or leave it. Many found themselves having to take early return flights on Sunday, so that there were few interpreters left for interpretation that day.

Despite all the frustrations, Malmö will probably remain a memorable experience for many of the interpreters of the TR/KR booth. Some have made new acquaintances; some have seen their limits, while others may have discovered a vocation. We will hopefully have a clearer view on these matters, within the mail group Barish created quite early in the selection process. In the mean time, we now have a base on which to develop our network for 2010, if Babels is chosen for the 2010 ESF.

Ali Ottoman

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