Multilingual smiles

This is a post in the first person, written from one side of the computer screen. So far our posts have been from all of us, in Gaza and Glasgow. But this is a post about being responsible for a project in a language one does not understand, and there is just me (Giovanna indicates herself) in this rather peculiar position. So, this is my blog post about frustration, trust, collaboration. About looking for patterns and sounds (and smiles). About the affective dimensions of languages…

 

Scene one

An office at the University of Glasgow (zoom in on an email inbox). I open a document that has just arrived from our Gaza partners. I know it’s the script for the films that will accompany the course: we were expecting it. It’s in Arabic. I stare at it, but it remains silent. I minimise the document and get on with other work, waiting for Esa to come and breathe sound into it.

Esa and I look over the script for the short videos that will introduce each lesson. We are concerned that the dialogues have too few lines for Sara, the female character, and that we’ll need to expand her role a bit. I can tell when Sara speaks even though the script is in Arabic and I cannot read it. I can recognise the name ‘Sara’ because its last letter is a little ‘o’ shape, with two dots above it. I can see eyes, a nose, and a little wonky smile off to the right. Let me introduce you to Sara of the little smile:

سارة      

So, I can count the times the little smile appears as the first word of the script, just before a colon (I can deal with the right to left script, that seems easy enough). Yes, there are definitely not enough lines for Sara: we will need to make sure that she speaks a bit more… Esa reads the Arabic dialogue aloud for me, in Italian. We discuss the parts that we like, those that we’re not sure about (Esa and Giovanna speak Italian to each other). We make comments on the margins of the document for our Gaza partners, in English.

 

Scene two

Today we have a full team meeting. We have not had one for a while, so we have a lot to discuss. Esa and I sit on the floor, in the living room of a Glasgow tenement building, a wood fire to keep us warm. On the coffee table are: two laptops, some sheets of paper, empty coffee cups, pens, a few oatcakes, chocolate (it is lunchtime, after all). One of the laptops takes us to Gaza, via Skype. On the other one we bring up the documents we are working on.

The Gaza team look into the Glasgow living room from the other side of the screen. They look a lot more professional: a university room, desks, books, pens, laptops. No debris of a meal in sight (well, it is mid-afternoon there). Two countries, two rooms. Two laptops, eight people, three languages. Sometimes all three languages at once.

For some reason the connection today is poor. Our voices break up when they reach Gaza. I speak closer to the screen, in English, slowly: “Did. You. See. Our. Comments. To. The. Script?” The Gaza team consult in Arabic and Esa translates in Italian what they are saying: they are not sure which document. I try again: “We. Sent. You. The. Comments. Last. Week”. The Gaza team are struggling to understand my fragmenting English (puzzled faces on the screen). Esa enquires about the document in Arabic. They understand, and they all chat away (Giovanna puts more wood on the fire).

The reception improves and we work together for a couple of hours , honing the dialogues, discussing the activities.

 

Scene three

We wave goodbye to the Gaza team,  drawing another long, productive meeting to a close. I offer my “Ma Salama!”, a bit dizzy from the concentration required to juggle laptops, languages, echoes. Esa’s goodbye in Arabic takes longer (Esa and our colleagues in Gaza laugh).

Esa and I settle down for the rest of the afternoon, to do the work we agreed we would do. The Gaza team are doing the same in their university room, getting started on the many tasks they have taken on. Esa and I write the screen-play using the dialogues we agreed on, so we can send it to Gaza before evening: Sara likes music (she gives a thumbs-up). Adam likes drawing (he shows his sketchbook). Anas would like sage tea (close up of fresh sage).

The filming in Gaza will start within days, and there’s no time to waste. Sara (of the little smile) now has more lines.

“Ce la faremo!” Esa tells me (she smiles).

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