Life in the Hobbit Hole

In our office there is no coffee machine for the workers to gather around. There is a tiny kitchen where we occasionally meet while depositing salad in the fridge or washing  yesterday’s coffee out of our mugs. What we do is mostly a solitary activity, save for some team-building communications that serve the exact opposite, or email exchanges on terminology that keep going for weeks.

We also meet sometimes at the hub of the activity the office of programming where the documents are distributed, then each of us heads up (or down) into our individual Hobbit Holes, as a good-humored colleague quite aptly named our office cubicles. Some brilliant genius thought that translators really need peace and quiet to enhance their productivity, so they mercilessly partitioned the floors of our office block into open working areas for typists and small windowless individual boxes for translators; we do not need sunlight anyways, it will hurt our poor eyes. So we sit in these caves and translate the world’s bumbling bureaucracy into equally baffling Arabic. We are encouraged to translate ambiguity with ambiguity, because the original is most likely intentionally ambiguous. Yet, when an Arab delegate picks up a document he cannot make heads or tails out of, it will certainly be the translator’s fault. So is our life, we bottom feeders.

Nobody really cares about the lowly translator. The interpreters often get the limelight. Their triumphs (and mistakes) are broadcast on national television. Ours are relegated to the gods of filing and archive, forgotten until they are once dug up, to be passed around for the mirth and amusement of other colleagues. It is about the only pleasure we get, to laugh off mistakes, horrible rendering, or gaffes of mistranslation. Because there is little pleasure in rendering utilitarian text. I always wondered whether two years of translating them has made my Arabic writing better or worse, I am not sure.

In-house translators are not too visible. They are perceived to be highly tolerant of crap coming their way, linguistic and otherwise. Therefore the high echelons of management gave us these terrible offices; out of sight of the main campus of our organization, we will also stay out of mind, so management hopes. I have been in this tomb of an office for almost two years now, and to add insult to injury there is a demolition going on next door to our building. They mailed us tenants back in November (or December) to tell us that the demolition will take 6-8 Weeks. Well, it has been almost 12 Weeks now, and they are still going at it full-blast with cranes and jack-hammers. The combination of noise, dust, vibrations and gloom is quite nerve-racking. Last week, I needed to run outside the building, I felt close to a panic attack.  We on the  lower floors are most affected, by dust, low light and noise. Apparently the former director of our section wanted the lower floors, because the lifts weren’t reliable, and so we suffer the consequences.

I have decorated my office space, and tried to bring in some color to the gloom.  Pictures of my son, and some of his artwork to remind me why I have to keep working. Pictures of Africa and a map of South Africa to remind me of where I want to be. I have also opted out of the institutional fluorescent lighting and brought a yellow indirect light. One of my colleagues invested several hundred dollars in buying noise-cancelling headphones, I still cannot justify this type of expense, so I put up with this noisy hell-hole. Another colleague found the solution to escape to a higher floor. She works in an open plan area at a different section. I may still follow her example.

For this week though I am giving myself and the Hobbit Hole a break. I am off  with my son for the Easter Break.




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