Sunday, March 4, 2018

lost in translation...

My husband and I just came home from seeing Black Panther. (Wakanda Forever!) This film is amazing, I'm sure I don't have to tell you, you've all seen it. Wow, the magic that can happen when we give voice to non only white, straight, male film-makers! There is, literally,  A WHOLE WORLD of movies waiting to be made. I'm here for ALL of it. Also, I'm down with any kind of Wakanda themed park experience adventure... whatever. Bring it.

But this isn't really a post about a movie. There are plenty of smart folks writing about this movie. Like this twitter thread about all the African influences on the costumes and body art.

It's just that it got me thinking about something I hadn't pondered in a while- about how much gets lost in translation, especially in international adoption. I'm also reading "The Grammar of God" which is about what is lost (and changed) in the translations of scripture from Hebrew to English. Fascinating!

Back to Black Panther for a moment: There is a scene in which Killmonger takes off his shirt to reveal his killing scars... which is an cultural image actually borrowed from the ritual scarification of the Surma tribe of Ethiopia as well as other African tribes.

My Ethiopian children have scars on their bodies... not quite like the raised bumps of Killmonger, but clearly ritual scars, not the kind that occur with typical childhood injuries. Each time I've asked an Ethiopian about them, I've gotten a slightly different, vague answer. Most answers start with, it was done to help their eyes (or stomach)... and then the answers trail away as they realize that in English, they are making not any sense.

It's like it's untranslatable.

Here in America the thought that you would choose to injure or scar your child's skin for a health or cultural or religious reason is... well, it's unthinkable. * But, in other parts of the world, people see through different eyes. And in rural African communities in which there are no doctors or clinics or medicines, rituals and traditional healing are often a worried parent's only options.

My children's scars do not hurt or embarrass them. They are mildly curious about them, when they think about it. Which isn't very often. But I would like them to have some words about them, even inadequate ones, to use when they are grown and questions arise.

We have our own African adventure coming up in just a couple of weeks. We'll be returning to Ethiopia around Easter to see our family and travel a bit. Perhaps we'll find some more answers about the ritual scars on D and L, and why and how and when they were done. Perhaps not. Perhaps, like certain Hebrew phrases, there is no translation into American. We'll see...


*Even male circumcision is now under a lot of scrutiny and pressure. 

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