Our reporting trip to Jordan is the first time I’ve ever covered stories in a language I don’t speak or understand. Pretty much all our interactions are in Arabic.
I am getting really good at reading peoples’ facial expressions and interpreting their verbal queues so that I can react appropriately, but it’s more challenging than it sounds. Despite the fact that Hala is fluent in Arabic and English and translating on the spot whenever she can, misunderstandings often occur due to cultural differences.
One of the stories we’re reporting on is about mental health. Covering it with the depth and detail we’re striving for involves asking sensitive questions and responding compassionately. Sometimes our characters, the ‘sensitive souls’, laugh at times I might expect them to cry based on the English translation of the question Hala is asking in Arabic. Sometimes an answer that I think will be a few words ends up being half an hour long.
Although Valentina and I understand more now than a month ago, there is still something missing. This is partly because of an unnatural delay; it’s harder to connect with your characters when you don’t understand most of what they’re saying in the moment.
I’m listening to the voices I’m hearing carefully, concentrating on how people are speaking, not just what they are saying. I’m listening to the rhythm of their speech, focusing on how the pitch of their voices rises and falls. I’m listening to the music they make.
In journalism school, I remember one of our professors telling us that radio is the most intimate medium. Now, I understand why.