In 1987,I left Palestine for eight years to further my studies. I had obtained an IB diploma from Lester B. Pearson College in Canada (1987) and then an MA in Applied Foreign Languages from Lumière University- Lyon, France. That same year, my mother was extremely ill and I decided to return to Palestine to be near her. She passed away that same summer and I was on the move again. I was already doing translations here and there – even before going to university.
These translations included interpreting for the French Consul General at the opening of the French Cultural Center in Gaza in 1989, and translating play therapy sessions at the Gaza Community Mental Health Program. However, still in the mindset of having a ‘fixed job’, I started working as Public Relations Officer for the World Trade Center (WTC) in Gaza. Signed up for a Ph.D. Program at La Sorbonne University in Paris.
My position at WTC was very interesting. Every day involved a variety of activities and I had the opportunity to travel for my job. However, I could not accommodate the working hours. I wanted to be in control of my own time.
In 1998, while finishing (and defending) my Ph.D., I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. I decided then that becoming a mother was the most important thing and I quit my job. By that time, Birzeit University was establishing the Institute of Law, which needed a lot of translation and interpretation work. With this, I started my career as a freelancer. I realized very quickly that I should plan realistically. After some harsh experiences, I learned WHEN to say ‘yes, I can do it’ or ‘No, I cannot do it”.
This became my strategy. I put family first and filled in the free time with translation. I targeted quality first. Therefore, I raised my fees and explained to all my clients that I do one job at a time and submit a finished ready-to-use product. I kept my promise most of the time and respected quality and deadlines.
Moreover, I was transparent about the problems I faced, even if it meant telling my client that after having started the job, I did not think I was the right person to do it. Most clients appreciated the honest communication and I could refer them to the translators most competent for their work.
This strategy enabled me build cooperative rather than competitive relations with other translators. Virtually, we acted like teams and stepped in for each other.
The major problem I face is the current taxation system, which compels a home-based translator to spend hours of administrative work and to issue VAT invoices with payable taxes every month even when the invoice is not collected. Paying taxes consumes much of my time and efforts, and I have been calling for reform to ease on the procedures, but have received no official response.
The best part of my work is that I can take some time off and focus on my family, which I have been doing for the past two years. During this time, I participated in writing a book about Politics and the Power of Tourism. I wrote the chapter on Gaza, the “Missing Assets”.
My day as a freelance translator/interpreter does not have any fixed routine. I may work from home, from a café near my children’s school or at a swimming pool in Jericho. My office consists of an efficient laptop and Internet connection. There are days when I have conferences to interpret and I act like an employee for these days. I always say, I can work, swim and cook at the same time.
Dr. Rania Fulfil