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Public: Interpreting for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Contributed by philippebaudrion on Aug 21, 2012 - 11:49 AM

Arturo Rago, about to graduate with an MA in conference interpreting from the FTI, Geneva, accompanied the Dalai Lama during his visit to Basilicata.

1) Interpreting for the Dalai Lama must be an intimidating experience, all the more so at the beginning of one’s professional career. What were your feelings when you met and interpreted him?

Working for His Holiness was a great honour. I felt incredibly privileged to be so close to one of the most inspiring people of our time.

The whole day felt like an emotional rollercoaster: needless to say, I had butterflies in my stomach before meeting him; and things didn’t get any easier when I started working as the job turned out to be more challenging than I had expected and I knew I couldn’t allow myself to slip up on such an important occasion. However, as the day went on, nerves gradually gave way to a great sense of serenity. The Dalai Lama is truly surrounded by an aura of peacefulness and I think that helped me focus less on my own feelings and more on the beauty of what was going on around me. It was a joyful event, a celebration of solidarity across cultures, and it was a blessing for me to be part of it.

2) Can you tell us more about the Dalai Lama’s visit?

The Dalai Lama was invited to Basilicata by “Fondazione Città della Pace”, an Italian non-profit organisation for child refugees and asylum seekers. His Holiness visited the Foundation’s reception centre in Sant’Arcangelo and the training facility currently under construction in Scanzano Jonico.

The idea of a City of Peace for Children in Basilicata was initially put forward by Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and President of WCCCI (World Centers of Compassion for Children International), in 2004. The project was then carried out by the municipalities of Sant’Arcangelo and Scanzano Jonico, in collaboration with a number of training agencies, national and international institutions and other non-profit organisations.

The project will give dozens of children the opportunity to start a new life, free from war and persecution, and to be integrated into their host country. It is a powerful message of peace, solidarity and global responsibility towards innocent children and their families.

3) What were the challenges of a public event context?

The day’s schedule was extremely busy. We had only a few hours to visit the two towns and meet a number of political and religious authorities, which meant that, at times, the working conditions were mentally and physically taxing. Concentrating for hours in the sweltering heat was definitely a major challenge, as was weaving my way through security and the “maddening crowd” whilst moving between venues.

4) What lessons, if any, did you learn from this experience?

Professionally, it made me realise how important it is to be creative and adaptable on such occasions. I could switch from consecutive to chuchotage to liaison in the space of a few minutes, both from and into English, and had to stay alert as I never knew when someone might need a “translator”, especially during lunch.

I personally felt more like I was part of a team than a freelance interpreter and, therefore, I felt like I had my part to play in making sure everything went smoothly on the day. My tasks at times went beyond interpreting for His Holiness, from helping journalists after the event to asking people not to crowd around His Holiness to preserve the needed work space when we moved from one place to another; not to mention the actual speeches I interpreted: the most bizarre terminology came up, from elephant tusks to Latin inscriptions!