I grew up in a tourist town called ‘Lakeside’ in a Himalayan nation – Nepal. Tourists from around the world come to Nepal for treks to the Himalayan Ranges such as Annapurna and Everest Base Camp.
Growing up, I met people from all over the world but most of them were ‘Whites’. Interestingly, even though they all looked alike, the way they spoke English was very different. I found this fascinating. Moreover, they seemed so carefree and had a lot of money to buy anything, eat in the restaurants and live in the hotels. I thought, at their home, do they ever cook and clean like my mum? Do they have to worry about the bills like we do? I wanted to find out. I decided that, one day, I will go there to see for myself and live such a ‘happy’ life, if there is one.
The more I communicated with the foreigners, the more curious I became about the English language. It became my favourite subject in school leading to the Masters in English Literature. After graduation, I worked in a Newspool for an English Daily Newspaper translating Nepali news into English and vice versa. And after a few years of work, I migrated to Australia.
When I came to Australia, I ate humble pie! First lesson, like you all have guessed, life is not as easy as an image I had formed by looking at a few holiday makers. And all the more so for the migrants. I learnt a second lesson when I met some Nepali speaking refugees from Bhutan living in Australia that life is still incredibly hard even though your basic needs are met when you do not speak the language of the place you are in. Some refugees with zero English were finding it so hard to navigate the surroundings, to access the healthcare system and to know their rights. Then, I realised, I can be a help to them bridging the gap between two languages. I sat for the then Paraprofessional Interpreter Test in Nepali and started working as an interpreter.
I currently work for a public hospital in Victoria where I am able to help facilitate the treatment of hundreds of Bhutanese refugees living in the catchment area. Working in a healthcare setting is not easy. You do not know what you are dealing with and you do not give out good news every day. Some stories have torn me into pieces and have haunted me for months while others have given me happy tears. One might argue that the role of an interpreter is just to facilitate communication and they do not need to take things personally. But, an interpreter is a human being as well and it is hard to keep emotional detachment at times. All in all, I have found it to be a rewarding career.
Sometimes, out of my own will, I help my patients beyond consultation rooms as well because when they walk out of the door with various slips such as blood tests, medical imaging and next appointments, it is easy to get confused. I brief them one more time about their next steps before seeing the doctor and walk them to those areas and help them book appointments as well. At the end, when they wave ‘bye’ with a smile of contentment, I feel that I did something useful.
On the personal side, I am raising two beautiful girls along with my partner. And, I feel privileged to call Australia home.
Dipa Baral is a NAATI-certified interpreter and translator between Nepali and English with a Master of English Literature.