The 4,100 words which follow contain my observations alone. You may see things differently, although I do hope that at least something strikes a chord. If you cannot stomach a text this long – a text I felt compelled to write – be glad that I put the poem and its translation at the beginning, for once, and just read that.
The road less travelled to #aptrad2016
and what I did when I got there
My feedback on Aptrad’s 1st International Conference will appear in the appropriate place on its website in due course. This blog has other things to say.
Post-conference poem & translation
—a summary of sorts for the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) crowd
Since interpretive dance is not my forté, I offer you my dance in words:
Há laços visíveis e invisíveis
Laços entre nós, entre os anos
Ninguém sabe quais são
recém-nascidos, finos, fracos
Ou quais são fortes como os grandes abraços
Muitos anos, muitas pessoas e ramos
Como raízes que vêm do fundo do coração
São laços que fazem redes abrangentes
Este é o meu mundo da tradução
Now that colleague and friend Marta Gama (a precision grammar artist of note whose own words are often poetry in action themselves) has kindly removed a comma or two and made minor but important tweaks to my first poem conceived in Portuguese, I suppose I should try to produce an English translation:
Ties exist, both visible and invisible
Ties that bind us, and the years
No one can tell which
Are newborn, fragile, fine
Nor which are strong, embracing all
Many years, many people – so many branches
Like roots which grow from the heart’s core
Are the ties which make the ever-spreading net
In this, this translation world of mine
Despite my aversion to crass sentimentality, I have to confess to an emotional involvement in this particular translators’ conference that has very little to do with the adrenalin rush which comes from being inspired by role models or excellent ideas giving rise to more excellent ideas.
So where exactly does this story start?
And how many points of departure are there? Who knows?
The longest span
Perhaps it began when I was 14 going on 15, the age at which I knew that I wanted to be a translator when I grew up, and therefore took an additional subject at school: German. Perhaps too, it was mere coincidence that my first (and best) German teacher (1979-1982 inclusive) did a rare thing and tagged me in on a photo on Facebook of her son with his two toddler children just as the Aptrad conference proper got under way on the Saturday morning, 18 June 2016.
This has some significance, since her son was born in either 1981 or 1982, and for a short while the other girl studying GSCE ‘A’ Level German and I had our lessons relocated to the school boarding house common room, so that our teacher could breastfeed her newborn child and we could carry on learning. Imagine the furore were that to happen now! Actually, the other girl did take umbrage and ranted privately to me after the first lesson. I told her to wind her neck in, and asked her what on earth she thought breasts were for. She nearly died of embarrassment because I uttered the word ‘breasts’, and so I won the argument and that was the end of that. I digress.
A bridge between me and the rest of the world
Perhaps it all began once I had completed my studies and got my first job as the only in-house translator – with secretarial duties for which I had no formal training – with an insurance company over 29 years ago.
Translators were few and far between in Harare, Zimbabwe, in those days. I suffered translator-in-the-wilderness syndrome until 1998, when I had the very good fortune of getting my own e-mail address at work and, more importantly, was allowed to surf the net on the monitor attached to server about once a week during my lunch hour, all in the name of ‘learning the internet’. What a painfully slow process surfing the net was!
Needless to say, my first internet searches were translation-related. By the sheer miracle of modern telecommunications, I came across a translators’ mailing list, and followed a complex set of instructions to join up. One could elect to receive each e-mail message individually, or get the whole lot once a day in ‘digest’ form. I walked on air for months. At last I was in contact with translators from Europe and America!
One name on that list was that of Chloe Parrott, a delegate at #aptrad2016 whom I finally met in person. I marvel that when I first saw her name we lived about 6,000 km apart, she in Ponte da Lima in the north of Portugal, and I, in Zimbabwe. At the time, I had no notion that eighteen years after our first photo-less contact that not only would I be communicating in Portuguese with her (a language I only began learning in October 2008), but that I would be doing so via a Facebook chat box in real time in order to arrange that we sit near each other at the pre-conference dinner. Thanks to my taxi having to re-route in Friday-evening rush hour, we did not dine together as planned, but did manage a few snippets of conversation here and there during the rest of the weekend.
Chloe’s presence at #aptrad2016 was for me representative in many ways of all the other people on that early mailing list, a good many of whom I count as my friends on Facebook today and to whom I relate more instinctively than many of my more recent online translator contacts. That may be because I know that should we ever meet in person, we will be able to look at each other across a crowded room, and acknowledge silently that we have survived and thrived, and that we shared an unusual but little known phenomenon that in some way shaped our lives as translators today.
The bewildered looks on some people’s faces when Chloe and I greeted each other before the dinner we did not share amused me. It was almost as if they had cartoon speech balloons above their heads with the words writ large: How do they know each other? How indeed.
More about the mailing list
A key presenter at #aptrad2016 was Chris Durban. Back in 1998 she was also on that early translator mailing list, and had just begun the Fire Ant & Worker Bee column with her colleague, Eugene Seidel, in the quarterly Translation Journal published by Gabe Bokor, a translator whose incisively intelligent articles had me in awe. It was the FA & WB column that I always read first with the voracity of one starved for information. The column was published in book form in 2010 as The Prosperous Translator.
The mailing list, of course, used to receive an e-mail notification with a link to each new issue of the Translation Journal. I used to print them out and file them once I had read them. Oh, most importantly, I followed much of the advice contained in that journal – all by myself in the translator wilderness populated only by names of people and the character sketches they leave behind when they write.
While I have been nowhere near as prominent in the translator world nor as successful as Chris Durban, meeting in person for the first time at Aptrad’s first international conference was not unlike colouring in the pencil sketches already drawn, based mainly on indirect exchanges over the years. The sense of privilege I feel at having experienced this long association and the accompanying exchange of ideas cannot be understated.
A note to newbies
a.k.a. Oh, God! I sound like an old bat, but WTF, it has to be said
If you have not worked it out for yourself already, Chris Durban’s alter ego, the Fire Ant, has a sting which can make you feel as if you are being burned by fire, and its venom causes swelling, itching and redness of the skin. The effects of its venom ‘can be deadly to sensitive people’, so Wikipedia tells us. When fire ants get together in any great number they are considered invasive and are capable of decimating the local inhabitants. Fire ants are also capable of surviving extreme conditions.
I am fairly certain that I am not the only one who is grateful that Chris Durban has been a true fire ant in the translation world. She has raised awareness among translators and clients alike, and squared up to face various translation-related controversies over the years head-on with insistent good advice and through her own good practice has provided solid evidence that what she advocates works.
As you grow and actively ensure your own development as a professional translator, you toughen up, and the sting of the Fire Ant becomes something of a comforting balm; a reassurance that there is a solution at hand and all you have to do is up your game and put it into action and continue to do so.
The good old price-quality ratio!
‘Pricing – What you need, what you want and what you’re worth’ was the title of the two-hour presentation Chris Durban gave on the Sunday morning of the conference. I had strategically positioned myself in the auditorium so that I could take a good photograph of this particular speaker.
Less than three minutes into her delivery, she described herself as a ‘militant freelance translator’ and promised the audience a good rant – not on price, but on quality issues. What a swift coup de poing!
I gave a split-second’s thought to the long road I had taken to sit in this perfect seat, and another fraction of a second to experience the collective gasp from those behind me. Despite my inherent reluctance to do so, resistance was futile; I had to tweet:
I was not the only one so moved. I was too busy to look, but I guess that behind me it was a case of all eyes to the iPhone, with clumsy fingers frantically transcribing this bold, unexpected statement.
Just as I was poised to add @ChrisDurbanFR and possibly a second hashtag, a favourite of mine – #xl8better – Chris Durban was heard telling us to put down our devices and listen up and listen well because what she had to say was far more important than any tweet or sharing on social media. Oh dear, she was looking at me as I corrected a typo.
As I pressed Send, I met her gaze and nodded in acknowledgement of her request, and did not budge or wriggle for the next two hours. And neither did anyone else. And that, dear colleagues, is why I think you will find that there is only one lonely tweet in the wilderness to have emerged from what was an incredibly dynamic, cohesive session during which Chris pulled out all the stops, and delivered plenty of straight talk with a smidgin of subtle humour at intervals throughout that not everyone detected.
She was clearly enjoying herself towards the end. I spotted her smiling several times. And that can mean only one thing: that a good many of the fortunate #aptrad2016 attendees ‘got it’. I smiled too. The Fire Ant effect is alive and well.
Thinking too much
If you subscribe to the idea, as I do, that we bring all of our experience – and not just linguistic experience – to every text that we translate, and if you also concede that the wacky notion that we are nothing more than the sum of our thoughts might actually hold water (play along with me here), then it will come as quite a shock to you that there exists a commonly held view (among a certain people in southern Africa, and perhaps elsewhere) that it is possible to think too much.
At the end of the pricing presentation, I went to smoke on the steps of the conference hotel, two things came to me: the pleasant memory of Renias (see previous link – it is translation-related, and short!) telling me quite frequently that I thought too much, and the strange expression on my grandmother’s face when she told a very much shorter child called Allison that she believed it was unseemly for women to smoke in the street.
Yes, I often do take the circular route to arrive at the obvious; in this case, that I had done far too much thinking lately, and that as interested as I was in the talks I had circled on the programme for the afternoon, I was suddenly bereft of energy to apply the degree of concentration I usually do to learning new things. Indeed, in a day and a half of conference I had taken just one page of notes.
I must have been tired because I found myself questioning why I had come to the conference. Well, there was my presentation…
Yes, but why did I do the presentation (my first one ever, prepared six months in advance when God knows there were other deadlines), and why did I choose Aptrad’s first conference over any other to share my take on my experience which incorporates the ideas of others that I have internalised and distilled over the years until they made sense to me?
Paula and Porto
If you lend any credence to the idea that living on this planet called Earth involves a certain degree of synchronicity, then the answer to those questions is Paula Pinto Ribeiro. Her website is currently under re-construction. The message there today is typical of the dynamic determination she possesses, and from which many have benefited either directly or indirectly:
A series of firsts for many
Here is the laço – the synchronous bit; the first tie which has had such a positive impact on my life as a translator, and my life in Portugal:
You see now, Paula had a dream of becoming a translator, and she did. Somewhere along the line, nine years ago, she was inspired by a translator from Brazil she met at a ProZ conference, whom I too now count as a dear friend. (I shall not refer to any more people by name, since the ties between us all start to multiply and cannot all be explained). The inspiration Paula received from this angel from Brazil spurred her on and caused what I imagine was an explosion of hopes and dreams to transform the rather barren translator landscape around her.
No practical organisation or forum existed at the time for translators involved in commerce and industry in Portugal, and Paula herself felt that she could have done with some guidance from such an organisation. The dream of one day achieving what is now Aptrad took root in her heart and played a part in her accepting the challenge of organising the 2013 ProZ.com International Conference in Porto, with the help of a couple of translator friends (who were both involved one way or the other in #aptrad2016, as it happens). The conference was singled out by people who knew as the only ProZ conference up until then where everything went smoothly. That’s some accolade! This is where I first met Paula – and so many others, at my first conference, which blew my mind, jolted my system and set me on course. I hope I never recover from that.
I had dearly wished to attend a translator’s conference for about a decade, but 12,000 km of travel for one weekend was the chief stumbling block. Imagine my excitement, now that I had emigrated to Portugal, that the 2013 ProZ conference was only 5.5. hours away by train! Imagine how excited all other translators in Portugal were that Paula and her trusty crew had brought the international translator world to their doorstep! Name tags with real live people attached to them! Imagine all the exchanges, new associations, the new ties that strengthen over time. The ripple effect. Or perhaps the butterfly effect. You decide.
A two-year marathon
As any good golfer will tell you, the power is in the follow-through. And follow through Paula and her merry band did. There was the regional event, the Evento regional da ProZ em Porto, Portugal in May 2014. Next came Let’s do brunch with… Daniella Zambrini in September 2014 which proved to be far more intense than I expected. Paula set out to get even more translators involved and investing in their own careers.
This gave birth to a regional conference in April 2015, the Conferência regional da ProZ.com 2015 em Porto Portugal which I can say, without bias, was truly amazing, especially as Paula gave a presentation – by popular demand – on how to get and keep direct clients. As usual, I wrote about it. For many of us, it was all about learning new things. What is even more astounding, in hindsight (scroll through the people who gave feedback on the conference link just quoted) is that many of the attendees at this conferences were speakers at #aptrad2016. This is a clear indication to me that translators in Portugal are gaining confidence and coming into their own.
If you attended last week’s conference, then you will see many familiar names and faces in the feedback list from last year.
The winner’s circle
It was by sheer dint of hard work that Paula and six other founders of Aptrad established the Association in February 2015 (look for the ‘APTRAD in English’ in orange if you need to) but it was only after the ProZ regional conference, on 22 April 2015 – a date I remember for some reason, but cannot verify – that the official launch was held.
The tracing of the threads and strands in this net which has become a rich tapestry is important to me because our past informs our present and what we do now, in this moment, determines our future course and those of others. Whatever we do as translators to help our fellow translators has the potential to spread to yet more, whom we may never meet or be aware of.
I say a rich tapestry, because in between all these conferences, the translators we meet and the friendships we make become stronger. The dialogue does not stop when the conference ends: it continues in term queries in forums, conversations in little pockets here and there, in the assistance we willingly give each other on an ad hoc basis, in the work we refer to each other and the work we do together in teams and in pairs, and now, under the auspices of Aptrad’s regional chapters, the social get-togethers (which focus on healthy outdoor activity followed by incredibly long lunches down in the Algarve, by the way). New relationships have also sprung up as a result of Aptrad’s innovative Mentoring programme which bode well for future work within the profession, not only within Portugal, but beyond its borders, given the international nature of our work.
My turn to bat
When Aptrad’s 1st International Conference was announced and a call for papers issued shortly after the commencement of the first Mentoring programme, I knew it was time to dust off the unfinished draft of something I failed to submit for the regional conference in 2015. It felt right to share what I have learned so far about collaborating with direct clients with translation colleagues attending this conference; colleagues who have already collaborated on so many levels with each other among whom are those with whom I have experienced productive and fruitful collaborations.
It was high time that I stated the obvious in illustrated ‘Technolor™’:
The time was ripe to shift gears and take it to the next level. To encourage fellow translators to raise their game. Culturally, in Portugal, this is a tall order for most freelancers, and the dynamic working against freelance translators, especially if they are Portuguese natives, is not easily shifted. I guess we will have to keep working at it – collaboratively, of course.
Always room for improvement!
As I stood as a newbie presenter at #aptrad2016, oblivious to the fact that I gave my whole presentation in the wrong view, with the menu ribbon on display throughout, I was conscious of Chris Durban sitting in my direct line of vision nodding almost imperceptibly in agreement at what I was saying from time to time. That was enormously kind of her and most helpful.
When I travelled home on the train a few days later – going back to where I had started from, as it were – I wondered to myself just how much of what I was saying was original, and just how much I had gleaned from others so long ago that it had now become part of the translator that I am.
One other amazing professional translator who seems to bind and tie us all together, Paula Pinto Ribeiro, also gave me solid encouragement, not so much by her enthusiastic acceptance of my presentation submitted six months prior, but by keeping it under wraps all that time. Laços invisíveis. Invisible ties.
What I did the rest of the time
Ostensibly, nothing much, although the following immediately spring to mind:
I made a new friend because of a blog I wrote which would have been published sooner than the morning of my presentation had the hotel WiFi been up to scratch. I received an amazing offer of introduction to a potential client from someone I had only just met. I patched up two frayed spots on the net which freed my soul. I planted a seed or two here and there during the coffee breaks, and haven’t stopped thinking about a very interesting type of collaboration happening among groups of translators in Brazil that captured my imagination in the short workshop after my presentation. I lent to two people for whom I have a special fondness my autographed copies of two Mox books purchased from that delightful fellow in 2013 for as long as they need to read them. As I did so, I wondered how the Moxlet was doing.
I forgot to track down all four other translators from the Algarve and have a mini-powwow of sorts, and see how they were doing; never mind, I will see them soon. I still cannot understand how I managed to forget to go to the post-conference dinner for which I had specifically purchased a ticket months ago, especially as I was almost certainly going to sit next to a good friend and the only guy allowed to say, “You’re Allison, right?”. This omission on my part was more than made up for by having a good old chat with a talented editor of what passes for poetry in my corner of the world. I gave away another book to a lawyer-translator gentleman who bought me a beer.
I received a beautiful lilac orchid as a thank you for having done nothing at all, and a gift of a little pot of basil from the Brazilian angel by way of good-bye before she returned to her own continent.
And after the conference, as I always do when I go to Porto, I met for coffee and a chat with “my” translator whose long works I so enjoy revising. I had no gift for her, but was touched to tears at the gift she gave me, seemingly out of the blue, but for which I know the unspoken reason, of which no mention between us is necessary: the coffee-table biography of her quite famous father: Ruben Andresen Leitão. It is in Portuguese. Her opening the door to the world of Ruben A – O Mundo de Ruben A so that I can better understand where she comes from was the biggest embrace of all, and deserves to be added to that ‘Organic Growth’ slide in the photograph above.
Oh, and I did quite a bit of this sort of thing – which was not really on the programme, but was perfect for me, especially as my 4G broadband connection sped up right on cue:
In a thematically-related moment, one of my favourite “connections” made at the conference occurred during a presentation. I was sitting near the front. The speaker said something which echoed advice I had given to one of my former mentees, who was seated at the back. I half-turned in my seat, looked over my shoulder at him and arched my eyebrow, as if to say, “Didn’t I tell you?”. He caught the look and nodded in acknowledgement. Laços invisíveis. Invisible ties.
©2016 Allison Wright