I’m sitting in the Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris on my way to Malta for a week (look it up. Grin).
Being on a trip like this always gets me thinking about all I learn just being in “not America.”
How we got to Malta is a little bit of a story in and of itself, but, in a rare moment of self-editing I will not tell it here, because if I do I will never get to the reason I sat down to type this out with my thumbs in the first place.
Suffice it to say it had a lot to do with never having met anyone who had been to Malta. As my Note will hopefully emphasize, that is reason enough to go almost anywhere.
Now, the Note I sat down to write.
Years ago I hired a former student to be a Lecturer in my program.
I was thrilled she accepted the position (I firmly believe the strength of a program can be measured by how many former students you would love to bring back to teach).
She was an amazingly gifted student (and has gone on to become one of the finest Interpreters, and in all honesty, one of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to know).
As a student she had one quirk that caught me off guard. One day in class she told me that she would never work in VRS interpreting.
I agree! because my ADHD CANNOT abide a cubicle.
That was not her reason.
She did not want to work in a VRS setting because “ASL from East of the Mississippi scared her.” It scared her BAD.
I couldn’t let that lie now could I.
Quite literally I picked up my cellphone and called Anne Leahy in Washington D.C. I said, “Anne I’m sending you someone you need to teach how to walk on hot coals, she has all the skills but she doesn’t know how tough her feet are” (not the last time I’ve sent Anne someone with skills o’ plenty and let her take care of the confidence part).
Anne brought out the best in her and sent me back an amazingly well rounded interpreter.
She certified before she graduated and charged out into the world to get some real experience.
A few years later I got approval to hire a Lecturer for my program.
When my former student applied I was thrilled! She was as amazing a teacher as she was at everything else.
The next summer I was invited to CIT in Puerto Rico and I asked my former student, now colleague, if she would like to go as well.
She was nervous.
“I’ve never been out of the country,” she said.
“And you still won’t,” I replied, “Puerto Rico is part of the United States. They use the dollar and have Walmart’s and stuff. You don’t even need a passport” (which is good because she didn’t have one).
She felt better. Somewhat. I mean when you think about it Puerto Rico is waaaay east of the Mississippi.
So. Off we went.
When we landed I dropped her off at her hotel and checked into mine then I picked her up and we made plans for the first day of the conference in the lobby of my hotel. When we finished I suggested we get something to eat.
Now, I have a friend who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and I asked her what is “not to be missed” as far as local food.
“Mofongo,” she said.
So we walked over to the concierge and asked if there was a place near the hotel where we could get Mofongo.
“Yes!” she said, “there is a great place within walking distance.”
At that moment felt a hand in the middle of my chest and my former student, now university colleague, pushed me backwards, leaned into the the concierge and asked, “have you ever actually eaten Mofongo? I mean, what’s it like?”
The concierge looked at her kindly and said, “that is kind of like me asking if you’ve ever eaten a turkey dinner. Yes, it’s the national dish.”
I reached forward and gently took a hold of her ponytail and pulled her backward as her ear passed my mouth I whispered, “we need to talk.”
I got the address for the restaurant from the concierge and we started walking toward it.
“Where to begin?” I thought. I cleared my throat and said, “my father once told me if you haven’t had a parasite at least once in your life you have not eaten enough interesting things.”
She stopped and looked at me just as you are imagining she looked at me and said, “ok that’s crazy.”
“Maybe,” I replied, “but here is what is going to happen tonight. You have a per diem for meals from the university. We are going to this restaurant and ordering Mofongo and you are going to try it. If you legit don’t like it I will spend my own money to buy you a Subway sandwich. Deal?”
“Deal,” she sighed. And off we went.
For anyone who doesn’t know Mofongo, it is mashed plantains fried crispy and smothered in stewed meat. It. Is. Fantastic.
She loved it. She ordered it everywhere we went for the rest of our time in Puerto Rico.
While we were sitting at that very nice cafe in San Juan, eating delicious food, I asked her a question that had been elbowing its way to the front of my mind ever since I first asked her if she wanted to go to CIT.
“You don’t have a passport?”
“No,” she replied, “never needed one.”
“You should get one.”
“Why?” she asked, “I’m not planning on going anywhere.”
“You need a passport,” I explained, “for the same reason that I think golf would be a much more interesting game if they just added a penalty box. They don’t have to change the rules at all-just add a penalty box. The fact it is there will inspire its use.”
She looked at me puzzled. It was not the first time and has not been the last.
“Think,” I explained, “you’re not planning on going anywhere and maybe it’s because you don’t have a passport, but, if you had a passport you would be inspired to use it!”
“I don’t know…” but she was thinking about it.
“Look at you right now. You’re stretching your experiences. You are in your twenties, you have a job that gives you some disposable income, you will never be this mobile, this free in your life.” I made eye-contact. “Get a passport.”
And she did.
Since that meal of Mofongo in Puerto Rico she has been all over the world. She has been to Russia, Thailand, and more countries in Europe and South America than I could possibly remember. She is no longer a Lecturer at my program, she has gone on to do phenomenal work in every area to which she sets her hand. And she has used her passport (I actually called her to see if she could cover some classes for me for during this trip and she was in Lisbon).
The point is she will tell you that each one of these trips has made her a better interpreter. Each has added to her knowledge base. Each one has expanded her cultural awareness and expanded her mind to the diversity of ideas. She has a better understanding that I do of what makes it easier and harder to navigate in a culture that is not your own using a language that is not your own.
She was already awesome and these experiences made her better.
It’s Awesome Gain.
So, here I am now I’m sitting in a cafe called Xemxija on the island of Malta. I took my own advice.
Why Malta? Do you know anyone who has been to Malta. Now you do.
What do you know about Malta?
Well now you know about this^^. This is the oldest know human manipulated edifice on earth. It is literally the first stone they know of on the planet that someone, or more likely, some group of people said, “we should pick this stone up from here and place it, in a very specific way, right there.”
It’s the pillar of the Skorba Temple. It’s older than Stonehenge and predates the pyramids by thousands of years.
This is the only painting Caravaggio ever signed. It’s here on Malta (there are actually two other Caravaggio paintings on Malta).
From what I can see the ADA has not made its way to Malta, but I’ll ask these folks about it tonight.
In Thornton Wilder’s famous play ‘Our Town’ Mrs. Gibbs pines for the experience of going to – ”a country where they don’t talk in English and don’t even want to”
Every interpreter should pine for that same experience. It will make you a better interpreter and a more well rounded person.
Get a passport.No matter your age or place in life-get a passport and let it inspire you.
p.s. Before I published this I sent it to the interpreter it is about. She asked me to quote her:
“Meeting Dale Boam changed the trajectory of my life. He was the first person to see the light inside me and demand that I stop playing small. I never knew that life outside of the comfort zone would be so worth it.”