The first time I went to court in 2012 for Kinyarwanda interpretation, the challenges I faced marked a turning point for me in the implementation of glossary building. Glossary building is a term used to refer to the act of collecting difficult terms in their alphabetical order and find their explanations and meanings in other languages The legal officer with whom I went to court had explained to me that he would be on ‘watching brief’. That was also my first time to come across the legal term “counsel on watching brief.”
While in court, I took oath and the court clerk handed me a charge sheet to sight-translate to the client. The latter was accused of being “rogue and vagabond.” “How do you plead?” asked the magistrate, as I was interpreting into Kinyarwanda. After pleading not guilty, the accused was informed that he had the right to apply for bail. He was requested to produce substantive sureties, unfortunately he did not have any. When he also failed to prove that he had a fixed place of abode this prompted the magistrate to adjourn his case to a later date.
I must admit that the thirty minutes I spent in court made me sweat! I struggled to find the direct equivalents of the words “rogue and vagabond, counsel on watching brief, how do you plead, substantive sureties, fixed place of abode” in Kinyarwanda, yet it is my native language.
On another occasion, I was asked to do Kinyarwanda interpretation in a workshop organized by the Refugee Law Project. The same challenge re-occurred when I had to interpret the words “Access to Justice, Gender and Sexuality, Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing, Media for Social Change, Conflict, Transitional Justice and Governance” which are the five thematic programmes of the Refugee Law Project.
Later, during other interpretation sessions, I came across the words “gender, PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), gender non-conforming, depression, stress, PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), flashback, positive thinking, group therapy,” and other words like “affidavit, plea bargaining, output, outcome, affirmative action, screening” and the same challenge of finding direct equivalents into my native language re-surfaced.