So what do you do with you make the major faux pas of marking your manager on the circulation list of your escapades’ blog? Well you make amends by talking a bit about your work too!
Our NGO partners realized that most of us had sacrificed valuable baggage space to carry one formal suit at least and ROI necessitated that these be put on a public display (preferably with us inside them) in some formal exchange. And hence was the ‘kick-off’ meeting between all the participants (11) and all the client teams (5) last week. Most of the clients were in fairly large groups tagging along with them their interpreters as well as suitable redundancy to these translators (and in some cases redundancy to the redundancy too). Our client (Andrea's and mine) – however – was a single man army! Prof. Z from the university we were aligned to, believed he could handle an American girl and an Indian boy single-handedly.
Being ambitious is good!
Right after the each-person-to-introduce-himself session, we were to have a breakout with our clients. I grabbed my Business Card in both my hands (as instructed explicitly in the cultural handbook), leapt over a few chairs and landed in front of Prof Z to introduce myself enthusiastically.
And then burst the bubble. The good professor looked at me with professor-like disgust, dismay, desperation, and disappointment and said only one thing: “I can’t understand you at all”. And my mind reeled… I could see my Sanskrit teacher from 6th grade disgustedly looking at a tiny bespectacled me in another time and age and saying exactly the same thing. Then began the painful 60 minute meeting where every single word of my superfast maglev Indian Accented ‘English’ had to be translated by Andrea into ‘American-English-made-to-sound-like-Chinese-and-spoken-by-a-Chinese-face-that-actually-did-not-belong-to-China’. The comfortable road stretching over the grassy plains of the four week long project suddenly morphed into a hiking track through a vertical mountain cliff.
I had the most depressing day I’ve had for a long time!
And that night I had my first nightmare. I dreamt that Prof. Z bought a first class ticket to India and reached my house there. My parents seemingly had joined my wife in Delhi and all four were sitting across a round mahjongg table and substantiating the Prof.’s statement that I ‘could just not make sense and be understood’. My wife pointed to my untidy closet (with all clothes hanging strangely on only 4 hangers) and screamed in exasperation that she ‘just could not understand me’. My father was speaking Mandarin and telling the Prof that since the age of 5 (i.e. since I was 5, not my father), he’d been unable to understand me. Mom was apparently speaking in my favor, but strangely speaking Cantonese so was being ignored by everyone else.
I understood the breaking-out-in-a-cold-sweat term for the first time in my life!
…to be continued.