Sunday, January 08, 2006
Lover with an Ax to Grind, Literally (Or the exciting lives of English Language Translators)
(Up: Lonnie Hilliard and Judith Kliks; down: David Pitts at the background)
Having lots of friends is certainly one of the great rewards of traveling beyond the borders. Until now, I’m constantly in touch with David Pitts (US), Lonnie Hilliard (US), Judith Kliks (US), Ramya Kannan (India), Aor Buaklee (Thailand), and Esther Lu Fang-liang (Taiwan). Ocassionally I also got emails from Segun Adio (Nigeria), Martin Rodriguez (Guatemala), Akilesh Roopun (Mauritius) and Marynna Rakhlei (Belarus). Recently, I got Christmas messages from Pamela (Kenya), Rolando Barbano (Argentina), Gloria Caleb (Pakistan), Suzanne Sheppard (Trinidad and Tobaggo).
Lonnie, David, and Judith were our “English Language Officers” (ELO) during our trip to the US under the 2005 International Visitors Program sponsored by the State Department. The title sounded like “interpreters” but they actually do more than that. Before my flight, Marilou from the US embassy in the Philippines said we can ask them all sorts of questions—like where’s the nearest coin laundry shop. They turned out to be our tour guides, sounding boards, friends, intellectual sparring partners, and nannies rolled into one. In New York, David played nurse to Salim Biryetega, editor of The Message (Uganda) who got seriously ill. David had to stay sleepless with him in the hospital overnight.
I remember Lonnie telling me how, in one of his previous assignments, he had to bail one participant out of jail after the cops arrested the guy for a “crime” related to the affairs of the heart. The guy fell in love with a female participant but she was not interested. Desperate, he tried to get the girl’s attention by tearing the door apart with the hotel’s emergency ax. With sirens blaring, the cops came and our lovesick international visitor had to enjoy jail hospitality for the night. Lonnie got him out a day after. But Lonnie said he has no regrets. He thinks he has the best job in the world. Being an ELO gives him a lot of opportunities to meet people from different cultures—“and from different love temperaments,” he said, grinning from ear to ear.
Who was that crazy lover? “No way, David. You can only get that information from me over cases of beer,” he said. Beers flowed abundantly like the surging waters off the Gulf of Mexico during those spontaneous beach parties in Tampa and Saint Petersburg (Florida) but I never had the chance to ask. Maybe, I was always too drunk to try.