I sat down at the table and turned on my computer, expecting to finally take up my role as translation advisor. I still didn’t know what that looked like for this team, though. All the other advisors were still in the States. For reasons beyond anyone’s control, I was on my own to learn how to do the job with a dozen or more native translators. But since my title was “Translation Advisor,” I assumed it had something to do with advising translation. I thought, okay, ask me anything. I’m ready to do this.
One of the translators waved me over. Yes! This is what I had been waiting for all these years. I walked over to his seat with my head held high and looked at his computer. It was at the login prompt. “I can’t log in,” he said.
Okay, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind by “ask me anything.”
I fielded five more questions by the end of the day. I didn’t get any questions related to the Bible or translation. All the questions were about computer problems. I was frustrated, but I told myself, it’s only the first day. Take a deep breath. See what tomorrow brings.
No one asked me any questions whatsoever on the second day. Nor on the third. The translators were working away at their jobs with no help from me. I was pleased they were doing so well without help, but I struggled to know what my role was supposed to be. I came very close to writing a message to the other advisors, “What am I doing here, anyway? They don’t need me.” But I told myself to settle down. If something didn’t happen by the end of the week, I would write the message.
On the fourth day, I came down on the translation floor into the middle of a heated discussion. One of the translators, who I will call “Jimi,” had a problem with a plural marker. It didn’t fit the rest of the verse, he said. The other translators gave an explanation for it that sounded right, but Jimi was insistent.
Had I heard the Pidgin wrong?
The debate quieted and I was still unsure what had happened. I told the group, “I’m not clear what the problem is.”
I was greeted with blank looks.
I asked Jimi, “What’s the problem?”
He muttered under his breath.
I don’t often get angry. This was an exception. I thought, fine, if you’re not going to talk to me, I’ll leave. I’m not doing any good here, anyway.
Once again I told myself to settle down. I prayed for wisdom, then started an in-depth study of the verse. I started with the Greek. I’m not quite fluent in the language yet, but the translation software and resources we have available is very good at filling in the gaps. Then I looked at a half dozen English translations, and then went phrase by phrase through the Pidgin translation. I still couldn’t figure out what the problem was. No matter how I looked at it, the explanation the other translators gave made sense to me.
I was tempted to give up. But what else did I have to do?
I kept going. About two-thirds of the way through the verse I found a second plural marker. It didn’t make sense. I thought that my Pidgin was off and kept working at it. But then I thought, hold on, the Pidgin translation was off. Maybe that’s the problem. The translators were looking at the first marker, as I had been, but Jimi was asking about the second marker.
I went to Pastor Peter, the senior Papua New Guinea translator for the project. I told him I wasn’t clear why the second plural marker was there. Peter studied the verse for awhile. Then he agreed with me. That second plural marker didn’t belong, he said, and it should be removed. I went over to Jimi and told him about Peter’s decision.
That was all that Jimi needed to know. “Thank you, Steve,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Kati Solano.