How are you doing, pumpkin? | Unaendeleaje, ___ ?

My last post was in March after which I disappeared to take care of business (i.e. school and the MCAT); now that I have completed my post-baccalaureate program, I should be able to post more regularly. If you’re still here, thank you for your patience!

Children are loved all over the world, but the way that love is shown varies with tradition and location. Having grown up in East Africa, I am familiar with the traditional adult-child dynamic prevalent amongst those who share that general culture. At the hospitals where my paediatric patients are seen, there is a specific culture too — one where the unwell child is showered with attention in a bid to ease their fears and make them more comfortable. While interpreting for the burn patient I mentioned previously, I was fascinated to see the rituals that took place prior to a procedure that would potentially distress the child (such as daily wound debriding or injections). No effort was spared: toys, musical instruments, a dedicated child entertainment person, and even a clown from whom I got the nose I’m wearing below.

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Part of soothing the child includes speaking to them, obviously, and it is here that pet names often manifest and discomfit me as an interpreter. As any speaker of the language will tell you, “How are you doing, pumpkin?” does not translate smoothly into Swahili 😆 . They key here is the sentiment that such phrases embody, and trying to convey them either directly to the child or to the parent so that they can pass it along like a game of telephone. The former is difficult because it takes a while for most young children to build trust with strangers, of which I am usually one, and the latter is complex in that some cultures either don’t express affection through pet names or reserve them for people close to the family. As a result, parents with this background are sometimes flustered to hear their children addressed in terms like the fairly impersonal “sweetheart” (whose Swahili equivalent, “mpenzi”, is very personal) by people who have only known them for however long they’ve been at the hospital.

In situations like these, I often simply substitute the closest Swahili equivalent possible for the pet name in question so as to not prevent the provider from speaking to the child as they would; if it begins to prove too challenging, I actually explain the difficulty to the parties involved — who are usually fascinated and amused by their cultural differences.

There’s so much more to this theme of adult-child interactions, but that’s the point of having a blog: we have time! I’ll be back soon to explore “cuteness” as another difficult-to-translate concept.

🙂

Sylvia

***

Fungu la mwisho nililiandika mwezi wa tatu, na baada ya hapo nikatoweka kushughulikia mambo (yaani shule na mtihani wa MCAT); sasa nimemaliza shule na ninategemea kuwa na muda wa kuandika zaidi. Kama msomaji bado upo, asante kwa kuvuta subira!

Watoto wanapendwa ulimwenguni kote, lakini namna huo upendo unavyoonyeshwa hutofautiana kulingana na tamaduni na nchi. Kama mtu aliyekulia Afrika Mashariki, ninafahamu kwa ujumla kawaida ya mahusiano kati ya watu wazima na watoto kwenye tamaduni za upande huo wa bara. Kwenye hospitali wanazotibiwa wagonjwa wangu watoto, nako pia kuna utamaduni wa aina yake — utamaduni ambao huwapa watoto kipaumbele kikubwa katika kuwafanya wajisikie vizuri kwa namna yoyote ile. Kipindi nilipokuwa nikimtafsiria mtoto aliyeungua, kama nilivyosimulia awali, nilistaajabu jitihada nilizoona zikifanyika kabla ya utaratibu wowote wa matibabu wenye uwezo wa kumwogopesha mtoto (kama vile kusafisha kidonda au kudunga sindano). Hakuna kisichotumika: midoli, nyenzo za muziki, mtu maalum ambaye kazi yake ni kuburudisha watoto, na hata mwigizaji aliyenipa hii pua bandia niliyovaa kwenye picha hapa chini.

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Kumpoza mtoto kunahitaji pia maongezi, na ni hapa ambapo majina ya utani huibuka na kuniweka katika wakati mgumu kama mkalimani. Mzungumzaji yeyote anayefahamu Kiingereza pamoja na Kiswahili atakwambia kuwa msemo, “How are you doing, pumpkin?” hautafsiriki vizuri kwa kuwa neno ‘pumpkin’ kwa Kiswahili ni ‘boga’ 😆 . Jambo kuu hapa ni hisia zinazohusika, na lengo ni kujaribu kuziwakilisha kwa mtoto moja kwa moja au kupitia kwa wazazi kama mchezo wa kuambizana. Njia ya moja kwa moja ni vigumu kwa kuwa watoto wengi wadogo hawamwini mtu mpya, kama mimi mkalimani, kirahisi; njia ya pili nayo ina ugumu wake kwa kuwa tamaduni zingine hazitumii majini ya utani au huwahifadhia ndugu na wengine walio karibu na familia. Kwa sababu hii, wazazi wengine ambao hawajazoea tamaduni za Kimarekani huweza kushtuka kusikia wanao wakiitwa majina kama “sweetheart” (ambayo Kiswahili chake, yaani “mpenzi”, kina undani zaidi) kwa wepesi tu, tena na watu ambao hawafahamiani vema na familia.

Katika nyakati hizi, huwa ninatumia tu neno la Kiswahili lililo karibu iwezekanavyo na jina la utani la Kiingereza lililotumiwa. Ninajitahidi kutomzuia msemaji kuzungumza na mtoto kama kawaida yake, lakini ikianza kuniwia vigumu kutafsiri basi ninawaeleza wahusika utata uliopo — na mara nyingi wanashangazwa na kuchekeshwa na tofauti kama hizi zilizopo katika tamaduni zao.

Kuna mengi mno zaidi kwenye hii mandhari ya mahusiano kati ya watu wazima na watoto, lakini raha ya kuwa na tovuti kama hii ni kwamba muda tunao! Nitarudi karibuni kuongelea suala la “uzuri” (yaani wa sura, kwa Kiingereza ni “cuteness”) kama jambo lingine lililo gumu kutafsiri kwa urahisi.

🙂

Sylvia

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