Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Thursday, April 26, 2007


She'd sounded so desperate on the phone, I could hardly refuse, and anyway, I didn't have anything vital planned for that evening so I told her I'd be there at 8pm.

It was almost exciting anyway, real work that could have a real impact, even if my involvement was my standard 'check the English' role. I looked up the address on a map and caught a tram, wondering if I knew the guy whose case this was all about.

When I arrived, two people I didn't know were in the office, legal books piled around them and looks of relief giving away how much they had been counting on my coming. They told me his background, his involvement in the conflict, and the extradition order that the letter we were writing to Strasbourg was hoping to block.

I got started on the translation of the first section, while the lawyer continued the original in Polish. His translator had to leave, but the girl who had called me would be in later. I took in the sense from the twisting language, and tried to straighten it out, make the details clear. The man concerned was in danger if returned, the human rights record of the country demanding him back put him at serious risk, he needed to stay in Poland to discover the outcome of his application for asylum.

Soon the first section was done, and I thought the final three pages would be equally swift to get through. The lawyer and I sat side by side, him suggesting a translation of his long winding Polish sentences and me trying my best to understand the legal Polish terms. After a while we just looked at one another and laughed. This was not working.

The girl who had called me originally rushed in around 9.30pm and took over from the lawyer. We made better progress, but the legal references required dictionaries and the Polish phrasing needed serious editing. Topped up with cups of tea and a box of chocolates someone discovered in a drawer, we made our way, slowly and being careful to be exact, through the rest of the text.

People have told me stories of when they were at work until midnight, and I always thought they were gross exaggerations. Now I realise it is actually possible they were telling the truth.

The letter finished, it was sent off to another lawyer for double checking, to be sent to Strasbourg the following day in the hope that the deportation would be halted.

I was elated at the chance I'd been given to join in, do something worthwhile. Then I felt a strange kind of shame. It's not a game, it's someone's life. I have no sense of altruism; it's all fundamentally selfish.

Doing things like that just make me feel better that I'm doing something to try and counter the awful things some humans want to do to other humans. It's still all about me though.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony's in town ;)

7:01 pm  

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