Found in Translation: “the water in my heart has fallen”

Before starting this journey, I realized that almost all the country that I will be visiting in the next several months will have a different native tongue than mine.

Everyone says "lost in translation", as if hopeless that so much remains in a space between unknown and known; but for me, I don't want to be lost, rather "found", and try to understand the untranslatable or try to appreciate the translation of certain words, which makes me understand the culture in a deeper and more meaningful way.

When I moved to Greenland in summer of 2017, I started a personal project to document the beauty of the Greenlandic language (Kalaallisut), while using the new words I learned as a medium to understand the Inuit culture.

Travel, like learning a new language, has allowed me to expand my worldview and learn about a culture. These blog posts are part of my journey to bridge images and words that are inspired by place. Welcome to my series "Found in Translation".

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart. – Nelson Mandela


Women attending Migra-Action's Self Help Group

I recently visited a project working on issues related to migration that is concentrated in the north-west of Cambodia. Migra-Action is an EU supported programme that promotes safe migration and provides support, particularly for women and girls, who are victims of abuse. Almost all of those who migrate, go to Thailand in search of work and higher paying opportunities.

I heard stories from women and men at a Self Help Group session arranged by Migra-Action, where individuals gathered to listen to each other. The stories they shared were heartbreaking realities that made me wonder how many of them are expressing the heaviness in their hearts. The idea of recovering from traumatic experiences also made me think about those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the Khmer Rouge regime.

I learned through research and speaking with several Cambodians that there is no direct translation in Khmer (Cambodian language) for depression - instead, the words "thelea tdeuk ceut" literally translates to "the water in my heart has fallen".

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be linked with "khyal" (attacks) and "khyal goeu", translating to "wind overload", or explaining to someone about a "shortness of breath". Depression and other mental health disorders can be expressed as "baksbat" or "broken courage".

Women sharing her story about migration

"Khyâl attacks: a key idiom of distress among traumatized cambodia refugees"

Many explicit terms in English don’t have a direct correspondence to Khmer, so it is often the case that more than several words are being strung together to make an idiom. This helped me to better understand the victims who were recounting their difficult experiences. Perhaps healing and expression are easier when you can find words that state what happen to your mind and body as they manifest in the moment, rather than labelling it "depression".

I can only imagine that saying "I have PTSD" and acknowledging an illness is a much harder thing for the women and men to do then say, "I have broken courage". Despite being in a country where many have had first-hand painful experiences and lived through disheartening realities, I see a lot of people genuine smiling and appreciating what they have.

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