“Oh, he’s so cute!!! Are your other children as cute as this one?”
This is an actual question a nurse once asked of a parent, and I found myself in the awkward position of having to translate it. For starters, there is no word — that I know of — for “cute” in Swahili, and the concept of “cuteness” is so vague since the cultures of many of the patients I interact with consider all children to be cute. When I told this particular child’s parent what the nurse had asked, he replied, aghast, “What sort of question is that?! No child is ugly!” He was annoyed at the seeming pointlessness of the question — and I in turn felt very uncomfortable, because I knew exactly where he was coming from. My discomfort is amplified when the refrain, “Isn’t s/he sooo cute?!” is repeated by multiple people, all gathered around gushing and grinning, hoping for a positive response from the child or parent. In this particular case, at one point there were about four providers standing around this child, who spoke no English and was seated quietly, making a variety of [positive] comments amongst themselves — as though admiring an exotic creature on display. Between the language barrier and the racial contrast, suffice it to say it was an extremely uncomfortable scene, especially since they kept looking at me to presumably chime in as the other English speaker in the room. Providers need to be mindful of this dynamic, which I’ll explore in a later post, especially given the vulnerable backgrounds from which many such patients come.
The wariness that paediatric patients tend to exhibit towards me as an interpreter (as I wrote about previously) doesn’t help here, because even when I tell the child what has been said the sentiment too often doesn’t register with them in the way the speaker intended. And so what happens? More awkwardness. Plenty of awkward moments in this job! 😆
I translate it all nevertheless because that’s what I’m legally required to do and also because I suppose parents surely appreciate knowing that people have positive things to say about their child. After all, the “cute” comments clearly come from a good place and are part of making the hospital experience less scary for the child. The next time a parent expresses irritation, however, I think I’ll ask them if they’d like me to explain to the speaker. I’ll post an update if I do!
“Oh, katoto kazuri!!! Watoto wako wengine ni wazuri kama huyu?”
Hili ni swali alilowahi kuuliza muuguzi kwa mzazi, nami nikajikuta nikilazimika kulitafsiri. Kwanza neno “cute” sidhani kama lina Kiswahili chake sanifu, na pia kwenye tamaduni za wagonjwa wengi ninaofanya nao kazi watoto wote ni wazuri. Nilipomwambia huyu mzazi alichosema muuguzi, alijibu akishangaa, “Swali gani hilo?! Hakuna mtoto mbaya!” Alionekana kukereka na hili swali lililoonekana kutokuwa na maana, nami nilielewa kabisa mshangao wake ulipokuwa ukitokea. Inaniweka kwenye wakati mgumu ikiwa hayo maneno, “Isn’t s/he sooo cute?!” yanarudiwa na watu wengi, wote wakiwa wamezunguka na kukenua meno, wakisubiri jibu kutoka kwa mtoto au mzazi. Siku hii, kuna wakati walikuwapo wahudumu wanne wamemzunguka huyu mtoto ambaye alikuwa hafahamu Kiingereza kabisa, na ameketi kimya ametulia, wakijisemea wenyewe kwa wenyewe sifa zake — kama vile wanashangaa kiumbe kwenye maonyesho. Ukichangia kutokuelewana kwa lugha na tofauti za rangi ya ngozi, tuseme tu ilikuwa sio picha nzuri — hasa pale ambapo walikuwa wakinitizama wakitegemea nami nichangie kwa kuwa ninazungumza Kiingereza. Wahudumu wa kiafya inabidi wawe makini na tofauti kama hizi, na wazingatie wagonjwa kama hawa wanakotokea. Nitaandika zaidi kuhusu hili swala huko mbeleni.
Ule woga ambao wagonjwa watoto huwa nao kwangu kama mkalimani (niliishauzungumzia awali) hausaidii, kwa kuwa hata nikimtafsiria mtoto kilichosemwa moja kwa moja, huwa hawaielewi kama mnenaji alivyotarajia. Basi inakuwaje? Ninajikuta kwenye wakati mgumu tena. Nyakati ngumu huwa nyingi kwenye hii fani! 😆
Hata hivyo, ninayatafsiri yote kwa kuwa ninatakiwa kisheria na pia kwa kuwa ninadhani wazazi hufurahi kufahamu kuwa watu wana maneno mazuri kwa wanao. Hayo matamko ya “cute” hutokea mahali pema na ni sehemu ya kufanya hali ya kuwa hospitali isimtishe sana mtoto. Huko mbeleni kama mzazi ataonekana kukereka, basi nitamuuliza kama angependa nieleze kwa nini. Ikiwa nitafanya hivyo basi nitasasisha hili fungu!