Friday, August 31, 2007

Lost in Translation

This week I want to talk a little bit about the interpreters that work with the international forces here in Afghanistan. These interpreters are the key to our success. Without them, we would not be able to communicate with our Afghan counterparts and our mission would be futile, as our message simply would not be understood. However, not only do they assist in overcoming the language barrier for those that mentor the Afghan National Army, interpreters also play a key role out on the battlefield as they often accompany those units directly involved in combat to communicate with the local civilian population. When these units are required to engage the enemy, their interpreters remain in the midst of battle. Since the beginning of operations in 2001 over 50 interpreters have lost their lives as a result of direct combat action. Usually this loss of life is only reported as a footnote should an interpreter be killed in an incident with a foreign soldier.

With that said, I think it is more than fitting to recognize the contribution that they make to help bring security to their country and the conditions within which they work. It is a well known fact that in certain regions of the country, interpreters are often targeted by the Taliban as they are seen as assisting foreign troops. Often this fact makes me wonder what it must be like for a local interpreter to leave the safety of his home and make his way to the Airfield each day.

For those of us that rely on interpreters everyday to do our jobs, you begin to develop a personal relationship with that individual. Of course, at the outset it is an awkward setting. However, as you begin to adjust and develop an awareness of your surroundings, it is only human nature to start to get to know your “terp” as a person and not just as someone that can assist you to do your job.

Although for security reasons I cannot provide much information about the interpreter that I use other than to be able to tell you that he is a character in the truest sense of the word. His ability to translate is beyond reproach and his proficiency in english is remarkable given the short period of time that he has spoken it. But, such skill does not come as a surprise. Many of the interpreters that I have spoken with are extremely intelligent. And therein lies the reason why they have chosen to work as interpreters. Sadly, many see that a future in Afghanistan is no future at all. Their hope is to learn english and then one day to leave for either the United States and Canada. Not yet have I met one interpreter, who I have had any length of discussion with, who has not passed on his desire to leave Afghanistan. And the sad irony is, these are the bright spots of the country who, with enough assistance, could one day turn Afghanistan into a country that is able to hopefully function on its own.

Things continue to go well here. The mentoring tempo has started to pick up as I am now getting much more involved into the daily workings of the military lawyers. And, unfortunately the average temperatures haven’t really cooled off too much. All week we have been in excess of 40 degrees and there is little relief in sight. Perhaps I will begin to appreciate it in November when it is only a cool 25 degrees, but I can only wait and count the days until that kind of relief comes. I hope that all is well for everyone back home in Canada and as always, if you have any comments or questions, feel free to send them to me at

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