As interpreters our jobs have many emotional facets. At a minimum our jobs are fulfilling. If you happen to work in immigration like I do, it can be exciting even electrifying listening to testimony about harrowing desert crossings and narrowly escaped gun fights. Though it wrenches my heart at times, I get a genuine sense of real action, real people, in real struggles. That’s why I love being an interpreter. That’s why I choose to do it. Action. Life.
But we must keep in mind that even interpreters can live in a bubble. I thought I had a pretty good idea about interpreter’s lives until I read about a project on Kickstarter for a film titled The Interpreter. It’s directed by a military videographer Robert Ham. Ham served in Afghanistan and worked with an interpreter on the project. There is no spoiler here, but the action I mentioned before, well, in the trailer the director mentions that Afghan interpreters–who are hunted as traitors by the Taliban–are killed. 1 interpreter is killed every 36 hours.
I hadn’t thought much about interpreters in a war zone. I don’t imagine they become interpreters because it has a good career track or is well paid. In the movie the premise is that the interpreters are offered a visa to live in the United States. Still I don’t think they do it for that either, though it is probably a nice perk. These young men and women interpret for many of the same reasons we do here. It instills a sense of freedom to communicate ideas. Unfortunately in America many are still of the opinion that ‘Oh, he’s bilingual. Or, grab her she can interpret for ya doc.’ We’ve still got a long way to go everybody. Our fellow citizens don’t understand yet how much interpreters put on the line to carry out a physically and mentally demanding job.