Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bilingual Business Meeting

RantWoman owes the world some reflections on her trip to the annual gathering of the Friends World Committee for Consultation Section of the Americas annual meeting held in Canby OR in March.

RantWoman previously penned the following facetious evaluation Mortification of the Flesh but apparently fuller commentary has been awaiting the creation of this blog. Okay, so the gathering may have faded from others' consciousness. RantWoman is, um, still seasoning and some themes from today's Year of Discernment Retreat at her own Meeting need the background of the earlier gathering.

The March gathering was RantWoman's first experience with this specific body's annual meeting. RantWoman tends to make a special point of going to big events when they are in her back yard, when she does not have to travel all across the country to participate. Canby OR, just south of Portland qualifies as RantWoman's back yard for purposes of this conversation.

The FWCC Section of the Americas has a very important feature for RantWoman: all plenaries and many other sessions are conducted bilingually in English and Spanish. English and Spanish are actually not entirely inclusive: thanks to the missionary zeal of one strand of Quakers in earlier generations, there are yearly meetings in the Section of the Americas who speak both an Alaskan native language and in Peru or Bolivia, Aymara.

That said, Friends are clear that English and Spanish are ALL that can be managed for interpretation, especially when Gringoland is completely arbitrary about visas for friends from south. They do a VERY thorough job with a glossary that accumulates over time, professional interpreters who donate their time, a certain amount of oppportunity for novices to try their hand and numerous other measures to cultivate a respectful and professional environment as much as possible.

Of particular interest, all plenaries and some larger meetings are conducted bilingually with SEQUENTIAL interpretation through the PA system. This does not necessarily make two-way participation exactly automatic, but it does ensure that a lot of Gringos with somewhere above high school Spanish get exposed to specific vocabulary and to the worship of hearing things twice, listening and trying to be inclusive. It also really helps for the sessions conducted entirely in Spanish: even when people are fishing for words, at least their brains have been seeded with some of the needed terms.

Full Disclosure: RantWoman's standard is that she speaks but does not interpret in Spanish. Once in awhile RantWoman considers revising this stance. Then she signs up for Spanish Worship Group and understands why she has not done so. RantWoman did find herself trading off with other volunteers interpreting for some smaller gatherings. RantWoman was not doing any notetaking and some elements probably got lost, but she did hold her own. This fact gave her confidence if only to do what is called upholding the process during some excruciating moments of wordsmithing minutes during Meeting for Business. (RantWoman may at some point elaborate on the phrase "human rights violation" and related themse mentioned in connection with this practice, but not tonight.)

Why, despite some big breaths of fresh air and healing of historical gulfs at this gathering, does RantWoman fixate on bilingual wordsmithing of minutes? RantWoman first is not terribly well-informed about numerous of these historical conflicts. RantWoman even finds the time at this gathering devoted to these old conflicts kind of disconcerting and at odds with her image of Quakers' skills and dedication to spirit-centered interactions.

RantWoman also notes that this year's Meeting for Business was fraught with the kinds of economic stresses common everywhere and for instance resulted in laying off the western field staff as an effort to staunch the hemhorraging budget. In other words, Business Meeting which can be tedious in any case, was particularly a minefield, and a certain point, RantWoman just needed to detach. Interpreter braind kicked in, and RantWoman decided just to observe and uphold the process.

RantWoman will post two more items related to this gathering, well possibly one on eye issues at Quaker gatherings, and certainly one on blogging live and in person, but not tonight.

Finally, RantWoman must lift up with profound gratitude the grace and glory of shared rides. As long as Quakers are going to travel far and wide and incur the carbon footprint and economic burdens of in-person meetings, we must heartily appreciate the spiritual communion of the shared ride. RantWoman more than once has had tremendously deepening and enriching conversations over the course of 3 or 6 or 8 hours in a car with someone.

On this trip RantWoman first made a small but graciously received gaffe. RantWoman knows from previous rounds of commitment to multiple car trips that one of the people going to the event is also tall and therefore has a car which is more comfortable than the average sensible vehicle favored by other Quakers. RantWoman did not think twice--or read her program--an simply wrote this Friend an email asking whether she was driving and had room in her car. This Friend, it turned out, was the keynote speaker and gently asked RantWoman to please talk to someone else. This Friend is generally someone of consumate grace and good humor--though she is responsible for one rahter plainspoken comment mentioned in the "evaluation" referenced above.

RantWoman's ride to the event was the clerk of her own Meeting, someone RantWoman does not know very well but admires for things like trekking in Nepal, being able to talk about numbers as well as spiritual concepts, and quiet groundedness. RantWoman had forgotten that this Friend's sister has multiple sclerosis and is a former professor in a small Western city. Most of the conversation on the ride turned out to be about the difficulties of her sister's life and about the ways the sister nevertheless is quite fortunate, themes RantWoman finds highly topical in her own life.

RantWoman's ride back to Seattle was a similar miracle. RantWoman knew going down that she would need to find a different way back because her ride to was not staying the whole time. RantWoman went prepared to take the train back, but also put the word out to the several Seattle Friends in attendance that she was looking for a ride back. Over the course of the conference, a ride of course worked out. After spending all weekend reflecting on the historical splits among Quakers, a topic RantWoman is still hopelessly ignorant about, she got to spend 3 hours in a car listening to a couple Quakers who grew up on the east coast have old home week talking about that very theme. Edifying? Uhhhhh...!

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