The other day while I was sitting in the Doctor’s waiting room I heard another patient start to mumble to herself in one of the two languages I have had to study since moving to Central Asia. I quickly struck up a conversation with her about where she was from, her family, what our health problems were that had brought us to the Doctors and so on. All too shortly she and her son-in-law were called in for their appointment and our conversation and subsequently my language practice ended abruptly.
Two minuets later the doctor himself stepped out of the office and came to seek me out in the waiting room, “Karen, do you think you could come in and give us a bit of a hand?” “I’ll try” I offered boldly, but even as I offered I knew the job would be way above my head. I only studied this language for eight months and that was three years ago. During that time I focused on learning how to give taxi drivers directions to my home, how to barter and buy things from the market, how to call a repair man to come and fix my hot water tank (again), and how to discuss the weather and daily activities with my neighbours. Medical Terms 101 was not part of my eight month curriculum. The next ten minutes involved me trying with my limited vocabulary to translate the doctor's probing questions, and keep up with her speedy delivery of complaints and complications. I don’t know if the doctor got half the information he needed, but considering my services were free, I can guarantee they got their moneys worth from this interpreter.