Monthly Archives: April 2012

Laughter Is the Best Medicine


This is the second installment of funny experiences  I have encountered throughout my interpreting career. I invite you to  laugh along with me.

My first interpreting assignment was in a Workers Compensation court.  Our fledgling company had a very good client who represented a large insurance carrier.  One day, he called in for a last minute job right after I had finished my training to start interpreting.  There was no one else available so I went, trembling in my boots.  I was 22 years old.  My backup plan in the event I needed time to think, or something went wrong, was to “accidentally” spill coffee on my lap during the proceeding.

This attorney had met me during my training when I accompanied other interpreters so he knew I was new and the guy was a prankster.  He also had a glass eye which made it difficult to maintain visual contact. In the middle of the hearing he looks at me, winks, wrinkles his bad eye shut, and putting his hand to his mouth makes believe he is putting the glass eye in his mouth and slushing it around…  I froze, my heart beating violently, waiting for opposing counsel or the judge to say something.  They never did because they knew him and realized he was just having fun with me. Thankfully, I recovered my composure before putting plan B into motion because I had a very limited professional wardrobe.

One of my favorite stories involves my brother, Alberto Salazar, who was a world-class marathoner in the eighties, when he was around 21 years old.  I happened to be visiting at my parents’ home in Boston shortly after one of his big wins there when a local Hispanic paper came to interview him.  Knowing full well that my brother spoke only “kitchen” Spanish because he left Cuba at 2 years of age,  I offered to interpret for him.  He looked at me naively and said, “Thanks but I can do this”.  Just then, my three year old son ran into the room and went to sit on his uncle’s lap.  The reporter asked him in Spanish who that was and with a big smile my brother assertively answered “Ese es mi nieto” (That is my grandson)  The woman looked at him puzzled and  said, something to the effect of “You are so young to be a grandfather….”

The following anecdote stems from Cuban culture.  It took place back in the early 90’s when George H.W. Bush was in office. Our company was called at the last minute, around lunchtime, to provide an interpreter for the President at an interview he was going to give at the Homestead Air Force Base in Florida to a Hispanic TV Station.  I had gone home to have lunch and my scheduler found me there.  There was no one else available.  Remember there were few cellphones back then.  My mother-in-law happened to be at home and insisted, like a good Cuban grandmother of her generation, that I take a sandwich with me that she quickly whipped up, lest, God forbid, I should skip lunch and feel faint. There was no time to eat it so I just stuffed it in my purse for later and set off.

I arrived at the site, was escorted to an empty office and asked to wait. The Secret Service then informed me that they would be inspecting the room with a canine explosives search unit.  I panicked from embarrassment thinking the dogs would be drawn to my purse because of the sandwich and quickly threw it into the first drawer I saw before they came  in. Happily, the dogs were so well trained that they didn’t even blink when they went by the drawer.  Even though it was food, it was not what they were looking for.  I rescued my lunch after the search and enjoyed it on my way back from the assignment.

Another gem took place in Cancun where I took a team of interpreters in the late 1980’s to work the Miss Universe Pageant.  Our Greek interpreter was  a Greek Orthodox priest, who worked as a freelancer with us for many years.  When the team took a taxi to go to the venue, the driver asked us what we were there for and we explained that we traveled around the world with the Pageant every year.  He was awestruck and said how lucky we were to actually have contact with the contestants.  Seeing Father’s clerical collar, he asked what he did specifically.  Without missing a beat, our interpreter told the taxi driver with a straight face that because of his religious credentials, his job was to physically “inspect” the contestants to certify whether they had breast implants or not.  Needless to say, the man’s jaw dropped to the floor. He shook Father’s hand vehemently, wished him luck and said to count on him if he needed an assistant in Mexico.

Have you ever been in a situation where you run into a client that you have to greet but you can’t remember his name?  I was in court once, training an interpreter, when I saw an attorney who used our services on a regular basis.  I had to say hello and introduce my companion so it was imperative I remember his name.  My brain quickly narrowed the possibilities down to two as he approached me. I picked one, smoothly said hello and introduced my companion.  I was very proud that I had made the correct choice.  He stepped into the elevator to leave the court when as the doors were closing, he glibly called out “Great to see you too Mrs. Suarez…”

That’s it for today. I hope you enjoyed the post and that you will write and share your own stories with me!

Transplant Lessons


It’s been 6 months since I was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a precursor to leukemia, and told that unless I underwent a successful bone marrow transplant, I would not survive another year. See my post “Sobering News and Turbo-Charged Learnings”. I was extremely lucky that the youngest of my four brothers happened to be a perfect match for me and was able to donate his stem cells to be transplanted into my bone marrow after my own bone marrow was annihilated by chemo treatments during a short four day period. Otherwise, I could still be waiting for a donor with time running out as so many others I have heard about.

It was a harrowing four months before the transplant, fighting opportunistic infections that had me in and out of hospitals  during that time and isolated in my apartment when I was not in the hospital, because I was immuno-compromised and could not afford catching even a simple cold. Towards the end of that period the doctors suspected I could have already degenerated into acute myeloid leukemia which would have substantially reduced my chances for the transplant to cure me. In addition, it would have required months of debilitating chemo to make the leukemia retreat to a point where I could undergo the transplant.  Luckily, when I  underwent a biopsy, it showed that I was still under the threshold for AML.  The doctors were able to proceed with the transplant in the beginning of February. I will be under regular medical treatment for the next two years but hopefully my life has been saved.  Nonetheless, there are no guarantees.  The statistics show that there is around a 50% probability that one can succumb to a complication post-transplant or that the illness may come back.

Why do I mention this? Despite the odds, I feel I have a new lease on life. Part of a successful outcome depends on seeing the glass half full instead of half empty and additionally, we can only live in the present.  The past is gone and we don’t know if there will be a tomorrow, hence the saying by Horace, carpe diem.

I would like to share with you some of the realizations I have come to in the past months, some of which were completely contrary to my former lifestyle:

  • Enjoy life now.  The day you pass on to greener pastures no one will remember how much time you spent working.  People will remember relationships, and any support or help you may have given them. Do not waste opportunities to reach out to others.  Even a simple smile can be uplifting.
  • Have balance in your life.  Do not leave things you like to do for a mythical time in the future when it might be more appropriate to indulge.  When you can’t do something specific, don’t dwell on it. There is plenty to enjoy and limitations allow you to try items you like but may not have been part of your short list.
  • Be aware of limitations for perspective but do not dwell on them.  Know that nothing happens randomly and we are all on different paths. Do the best that you can with the 5% of our minds that we control, knowing that there is another 95% that we do not control and yet there is a higher power we can access to guide us and bring it into our scope.
  • Freely accept help and good wishes without feeling that you are imposing or indebted to the giver.  Give them freely yourself, without any expectation of gain.
  • Develop yourself spiritually as it will hone your intuition and help you to discern the big picture of what is going on in your life and what you need to focus on.
  • Remember and pray for all those who are ill or in dire circumstances and especially those who are alone and have no one to turn to.

Please share your thoughts with me on these and other lessons you may have learned through experiences in your own life or from the lives of those close to you.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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