I received a large envelope in the mail today. I get them about every six to eight weeks. Inside are between ten and twelve letters which I am asked to translate. Sometimes from German into Spanish, sometimes from Spanish into German. I have two weeks to complete the translations, which I then send off in another large envelope enclosed in the original package for this purpose. If I don’t have time to do the translations, I can send them back, no questions asked, and somebody else will do the work.
Up to this point it’s not really much different from my usual work: I receive an inquiry, the texts to translate and a due date, I accept and do the work and send it back or I decline. That the original texts are on paper and I have to print out my translations is not too terribly unusual (having to staple them to the originals, on the other hand, is something I usually don’t do with originals).
The fact that the entire transaction takes place «in the real world» and not digitally is a bit different, true, but that is not what makes these translations so different. The real difference to my normal work is that I don’t send an invoice. My only physical reward is a hand-made Christmas card I receive sometime in December. But I don’t do this for personal gain or profit or because I collect hand-made cards, but rather because I like to help people communicate.
People from completely different cultures (Europe and South America) and social standing are brought together through an organization so that disadvantaged children get a chance to go to school, learn a trade or study, and ultimately lead a better live, and so that their communities develop. And while the sponsors give money, I give my time to enable them to «speak» with their sponsor children on the other side of the planet and vice versa.
Oh, the things they tell each other! The way the children write (and spell!)! The outpouring of love and affection on the pages! I think, being allowed to peak into these relationships, sometimes from the timid and cautious beginnings through a growing friendship to a successful finale, is a true privilege, and one that cannot be measured in coin!
It’s true, I sometimes groan when an envelope arrives, because I am booked out or my time is otherwise limited, but I always smile when I drop the package with the finished translations in the mail, because I know I am helping people communicate and connect who would not otherwise be able to do so.