I had this incredibly vivid dream last night. I’ve been having lots of international-travel dreams lately but this one really stood out for its lucidity. I know it sounds like an episode of 24 or Alias but here goes…
Apparently the mayor of a large South American city (nation/city unknown, but ‘seemed’ like Argentina or Brazil) had gone missing, and it was somehow connected to a particular microbe that was part of an international biotechnology/bioterror operation.
I had traveled to South America on assignment with a small contingent of operatives.
I was navigating a vibrant and beautiful city, and ended up in an unimaginably large and colorful marketplace – a bazaar of sorts – full of life and people and bustling with the excitement of culture and commerce.
I was descending a huge colorful passageway full of signs and trying hard to understand the signage. Whatever nation, whatever city this was I surely did not understand the language. And despite where my dreaming mind thought I was, the language seemed much more foreign to me than would Portugese or Spanish.
However, one of my co-operatives did know the language, and she (actually a person I know) was helping me understand some of it. I then started to think through the immense difficulty of the mission was not just in the logistics – but the psychology. It’d be hard enough to recruit informants, navigate a land, assimilate the culture, figure out who your friends are, and unravel a complicated international mystery when you are doing so in your native language. Quite another when you’re dealing in metaphors and synonyms and all the nuanced complications that traversing language barriers can add.
I mean, translation is really about finding synonyms, and even within the same language synonyms can be different enough to change the tone or even fully change the meaning of a sentence. How did I know that these synonyms “meaning-mapped” to the same places in my colleague’s brain as mine? The sign-makers and hers? Were the differences subtle enough to still get the “true” meaning across? I found myself in this super-complicated game of linguistic “telephone”.
Seemed like they had good food and coffee, though, hmm. And whether or not the mystery ever got solved, I sure was enjoying myself.
I’ll let you know if my “team” makes any progress tonight… 😉