Hey! The ACA enrollment deadline is Friday!

That’s this Friday, December 15, 2017.

In case anyone is still thinking we have until the end of December to enroll — we don’t! The deadline for enrolling in health insurance starting January 1, 2018 is this Friday, December 15.

The website is healthcare.gov, and a good place to begin is https://www.healthcare.gov/contact-us/ — click on the “individuals & families, including self-employed” tab. The FAQ under this tab is a good place to start.

To peruse plans in your state and county and to compare prices and hypotheticals at different income levels, start here: https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/. This page also has links for local assistance submitting your application.

Some states have longer enrollment periods, and the deadline was extended for residents of Texas, Florida and some some counties in Georgia because of the hurricanes this fall. This is an older post on the subject, but some of the links might still be good: https://www.healthinsurance.org/faqs/what-are-the-deadlines-for-obamacares-open-enrollment-period/#hurricane. Probably best to visit your own state’s department of health or consumer affairs website for the most accurate information.

Another helpful website to consult when thinking about your estimated income for 2018 is https://www.kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/impact-of-cost-sharing-reductions-on-deductibles-and-out-of-pocket-limits/. This explains cost sharing reductions (CSRs) for the Silver tier of health plans (the only tier for which they are available). CSRs kick in for individuals and families earning between 138% and 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL).* The above-linked Kaiser Family Foundation article explains how these reductions work to increase the value of plans at lower income levels. Although you would have to pay back advance premium credits at the end of the year if you earn more than you estimate when applying, you do not have to pay the insurance company back for getting lower deductibles or copays. (Needless to say, you must attest to the accuracy of your application under penalty of perjury when you sign your application.)

*Note that the 2017 FPL is used for determining eligibility for 2018 plans (and Medicaid, for those states that have expanded Medicaid to the adult population under 65). The Medicaid eligibility range is 100%–138% of FPL or $12,060–$16,643. So if you estimate your income within that range, you probably will not be able to apply for a plan on healthcare.gov no matter where you live. [[NOTE: I am not a health insurance navigator! Please consult a trained navigator if you need help applying.]] I’m providing these numbers because they can be hard to find. I have checked for consistency across a few different sites, so although you should not rely on uncited information found on blogs (and I disclaim all liability for decisions based on information provided here), I believe this information can be useful as a starting point for your own due diligence.

My own experience of updating my information at the last minute (last night) was not too bad. There was/is a glitch on the very first page of the application, where you have to check agreement to the privacy and data-sharing policies — I couldn’t get past it. If you get this glitch, don’t bother trying again and again, just call 1-800-318-2596 and speak to a representative. You’ll have to answer basic initial identifying questions, and then when you log in again (stay on the phone while you do it to make sure it “took”), you’ll be taken to the next step in the application process. My wait time last night was about 30 minutes.

My suggestion is not to wait until Friday to begin, because once you narrow down your plan selection, you might want to call the insurer(s) to clarify benefits or in-network providers, and that adds a day to the process.

So if today is Wednesday (or is it Thursday already?) and the deadline is Friday, what are you waiting for?

https://www.healthcare.gov/get-coverage/

Feel free to share. Use hashtag #GetCovered.

k01

P.S.: Some background here (but save it for AFTER you sign up).

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Why I Will Vote Against ATA’s Bylaws Amendments

Briefly put, I believe that the changes will not achieve the intended results, and that they will actually work against the stated goals by eliminating existing pathways to voting membership. As well, I think that if the amendments are approved, they will change a fundamental feature of the association, namely, governance exclusively by members who are “professionally engaged in translating, interpreting, or clearly related work” (in other words, working translators, interpreters, T&I educators, terminologists, and lexicographers).

The “overall intent of the proposed amendments” stated within the document of proposed changes itself (in the first explanatory comment on page 1) is “to expand the franchise in the hopes of increasing participation in elections, and possibly, active participation in ATA overall by giving more members a sense of involvement.”

Unstated, but apparently as important, is a goal to decouple ATA Certification from ATA member voting rights. (Currently, passing ATA’s Certification exam advances Associate members to Active or Corresponding members, referred to collectively as Voting members — see ATA’s membership page for more information.) This decoupling would get us one step closer to carrying out the recommendations of the Hamm Report, which advised that the Certification credential would be stronger if eligibility to take the exam were not contingent upon ATA membership.[1] For many years now, ATA has been working toward the goal of opening up Certification to non-members.

For the record, I support the goals of increasing the number voting members, encouraging greater member participation, and opening Certification to non-members. But I don’t think that the proposed amendments are a good way to get there.

My opposition is both practical and on principle.

On a practical level, giving more members voting rights without an accompanying association-wide campaign to boost participation is not a complete plan of action. Current voting participation peaks at around 20%.[2] It seems to me that we should first try to increase the participation rate among current voting members. A first step would be to survey voting membership to try to find out why so many of them are not voting and ask what can be done to get their votes.

Regarding increasing the franchise, the current procedure for qualified Associate members to become voting members is quite simple: they just have to ask. (Criteria here: http://atanet.org/membership/memb_review_online.php.) We have more than 5,800 Associate members, but only 378 used Active Membership Review to advance to voting member status in 2015 (the latest number I could find). Would someone who is not interested in ATA affairs enough to fill out a simple form to claim the right to vote be inclined to vote if that right were granted by default?

I wonder how effective we have been at communicating how simple it is to become a voting member, that it does not trigger a dues rate increase, and that the board and officers of the association actually care. We have not done enough to motivate our current voting and voting-eligible members, and it is premature to change the existing membership structure before we make more of an effort in that regard.

* * *

On the level of principle, the amendments appear to reduce the concept of “professionally engaged” — currently a prerequisite to becoming a voting member — to “dues-paying member of ATA for three consecutive years.” I reject that notion.

The current membership regime makes clear that ATA recognizes there is life before ATA; that many new members have been working professionally for many years, perhaps for an entire career. For example, some translators and interpreters have full-time jobs with job-related support services and don’t feel a need to join a professional association. But upon leaving full-time employment, they join ATA for the breadth of resources and networking opportunities offered.

Currently there are two paths to voting membership: Certification and Active Membership Review. Associate members can either demonstrate that they possess “professional translation skills” by passing the Certification Exam or they can assert that they are “professionally engaged in translating, interpreting, or closely related fields” through Active Membership Review. By inference, the explanation of the Active Membership Review process serves as a checklist for what ATA considers adequate and necessary for meeting the requirement of being “professionally engaged.” (The bylaws do not define the term.)

Both of these paths are available to any individual member of the association after four weeks of membership. So if I, as a translator with at least three years of professional translation experience, join ATA on January 1, 2018, I can take a Certification exam on February 1. If I pass the exam, then I am a voting member by the end of June (let’s say). Or if there is no exam sitting in February and I am impatient, or if I am an interpreter, I can fill out the Active Membership Review form on February 1, certify that I have the qualifying credentials or experience, without having to submit any documentation, and I am a voting member within a few days. After a little over a month as an ATA member.

The proposed bylaws amendments would change that. Under the proposed changes, if I join ATA on January 1, 2018, the soonest I can become a voting member is on January 1, 2021. With the elimination of Active Membership Review, there is no way for me to demonstrate my “professional engagement” aside from being a dues-paying member. With the elimination of Active Membership Review, the definition of “professionally engaged” itself will disappear from association literature. Certification will also no longer be a direct path to voting membership, but this path is anyway bound for eventual elimination (in another post I will outline my idea for decoupling Certification from voting membership while also acknowledging the credential as evidence of professional engagement).

The bylaws amendments hit Student members particularly hard. Currently, Student members may take the Certification exam without having to pay the full member rate (the four-week waiting period still applies). If they do not pass, they remain Student members at the reduced rate. If they pass, and if they agree to pay full dues, then they immediately become voting members. Under the proposed bylaws, the Student member category is still available, but it does not count toward the three-year membership period required to become a voting member. Student members would have to wait out the three-year period of full-price dues regardless of how long they had been Student members and regardless of Certification status.

My experience in the organization these past 15 years has been that new members are some of the most enthusiastic volunteers. I think we risk discouraging those most likely to get involved in and eventually serve the association by not allowing them to apply for voting rights in the first year or two of their membership.

* * *

In the September/October issue of The ATA Chronicle (issue 46, no. 5, p. 7), ATA’s executive director, Walter Bacak, says, “The Board approved presenting proposed bylaws changes to the membership for their approval. The changes are intended to expand voting rights to associate members who are professionally engaged in language services and have been members for three consecutive years.” These same two sentences appear in a sidebar on page 16. I think this is a mischaracterization of the changes, and that a more accurate characterization would be, The changes expand voting rights to associate members who have been members for three consecutive years.”

Following on this change from a voting body composed solely of working translators and interpreters, educators in the field of T&I, and terminologists and lexicographers to a voting body of anyone who has ever been a member of ATA for three consecutive years, we have to recognize that the sole criterion for serving on ATA’s board of directors or becoming an officer of the association is being an Active member of the association (that is, being a voting member and a U.S. citizen or permanent resident).

Current bylaws exclude agency owners, recruiters, sales reps, and software and app developers (among others) who are not themselves working as translators or interpreters or in a closely related field from becoming voting members of the association. The proposed amendments, however, would automatically convert these individual industry members to voting members. Therefore, unless I am misunderstanding something, under the proposed amendments, ATA will no longer be able to claim that its direction and mission are answerable solely to working translators and interpreters and other engaged practitioners.

I don’t know what the practical implications of this change would be, if any, but we already have a segment of members who think that ATA’s “mixed” membership of individual freelancers, industry representatives, and corporate members is detrimental to the ability of ATA to advocate unequivocally for the interests of freelance translators and interpreters when they come into conflict with the interests of corporate members. And even though I do not share their concerns, my reasoning is based on the current exclusion of industry representatives from ATA governance. At the very least, glossing over this particular consequence of the amendments shows a curious indifference to one of the most vocal — and active — segments of association membership.

* * *

I have other concerns about the amendments, such as a few technical inconsistencies caused by the edits, but the ones discussed here are the most substantive. The more closely I read the proposed amendments, the more unintended consequences I find.

So I will be voting against these proposed amendments.

On the other hand, I support the underlying goals of the changes, and I think these goals can be achieved without degrading the definition of “professionally engaged” and without working translators and interpreters having to relinquish governance of the association.

See you in D.C.!


[1] See, for instance, Stejskal, J., “International Certification Study: ATA’s Credential,” ATA Chronicle 32, no. 7 (July 2003), p. 14, available at http://www.atanet.org/chronicle-online/wp-content/uploads/2003-July.pdf.

“Michael Hamm, former executive director of the National Organization for Competency Assurance and the principal of Michael Hamm & Associates, reviewed and evaluated ATA’s accreditation program and provided the association’s leadership and members at large with a number of valuable insights. The purpose of what came to be known as the “Hamm Report” was to point the way toward strengthening the program and improving the benefits of accreditation.

[. . . ]

“Michael Hamm observes that while most credentialing efforts are initially developed to meet the needs of the members, the most effective ones are not tied to any membership criteria for participation, since competence and quality have nothing to do with the payment of dues to an association. The credibility of the credentialing effort is enhanced if it is viewed as a service to the wider public rather than a service to members. The move from a membership-based to a freestanding credential is a significant one in the evolution of any voluntary certification program.”

See also Hamm, M.S., “An Executive Summary: Review of the ATA Certification Program,” available at http://www.atanet.org/bin/view.pl/24113.html.

[2] In the ATA Board Meeting Summary, of November 7-8, 2015, one entry reads, “More than 500 votes were cast for candidates this year, which is one of the highest ever.” (Document at http://www.atanet.org/governance/bm_summary_november2015.php, ATA-member log-in required.) This was out of a voting membership of around 2,500 (I’m guessing based on various board meeting minutes — I cannot find a total for that precise period).

To Your Health: ACA Marketplace Info for 2018 Enrollment

Updated 25 October: Please see comments section for even more sign-up resources and tools to help spread the word.

This is a reminder that the enrollment period for getting health insurance for 2018 through the ACA healthcare exchange, www.healthcare.gov, is shorter this year.

The enrollment period is November 1 through December 15, 2017.

As well, several planned periods of website downtime are scheduled during the enrollment period, so the actual time to sign up is shortened even further. First of all, enrollment opens at noon (Eastern) on November 1st. Then the site will be down overnight Wednesday Nov. 1. And it will be down on five Sunday mornings, 12am-12pm Eastern, Nov. 5, Nov. 12, Nov. 19, Nov. 26, and Dec. 3. (Note that phone assistance will still be available during these times.)

#SpreadtheTraffic

But even though enrollment is limited to November 1–December 15, the healthcare.gov website is fully functional right now and the phone reps are standing by 24/7, so people can create new accounts now (and call and ask questions if we need to), and in that way reduce the crush of traffic during the enrollment period.

A good place for first-time users to enter the healthcare.gov site is the contact page. It has a link to a PDF checklist of the information and documents you will need to begin, a link to the “create an account” start page, and a link to an overview of the system: https://www.healthcare.gov/contact-us/. Click on the “individuals and families” tab.

#SpreadtheWord

Because the US Department of Health and Human Services has drastically reduced its outreach efforts, groups are forming to spread the word as widely as possible. If you’d like to get involved in these efforts, here are a few ways to do so:

(1) There is Facebook group for people concerned about this who are trying to make up for the reduced outreach (higher enrollment means not only a healthier population but also a healthier marketplace): “Indivisible ACA Signup Project,” https://www.facebook.com/groups/153329925218556/. This moderated, closed group is non-partisan and concerned with this one issue. You’ll be asked a few questions when you click to join (what state you’re in, if you’re willing to volunteer, that sort of thing). They have also set up a website at https://www.acasignupproject.com/ where you can find more information — about getting covered and about getting involved — without being on Facebook.

(2) Another way to help amplify the message is to sign up for the next “Thunderclap.” Thunderclap is an app that posts a one-time message to all your connections on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumbler (per your selection). The next scheduled event is on October 29: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/63403-aca-signup-reminder. The first two events reached more than 7 million people — that’s the total number of followers of the 3,000 or so people who signed up for the two events (though there was likely some duplication between accounts). These Thunderclap events will continue approximately every two weeks until all state open enrollment periods have ended.

(3) You can download banner images and flyers from http://acasignups.net/2018 and spread the word to your network of friends and colleagues.

(4) Follow @2018ACASignUp on Twitter and retweet their reminders to your followers.

Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments, and… be well and do good!

#SpreadtheWord  #SpreadtheTraffic

OpenEnrollment2018-KeyDates

May you live in interesting times!

Happy New Year, dear readers.

We face interesting challenges in the United States, and if there were ever a time when the arts were essential, now is that time. Literature, theater, visual art, music, dance, film and video, improvisation . . . As well, scientific inquiry, education, philosophy, journalism. All of these pursuits have in common the search for understanding — understanding of fact and also understanding of each other and ourselves.

But let’s not let our natural inquisitiveness lead us to question the validity of the principles upon which the United States was founded: Equality, liberty, and justice for all.

http://www.writersresist.org/

 

11307051005_26d90de819_b__lighting-the-stars

From the British Library collection of public domain images on Flickr: flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/

First time grant applicants: Start now.

A few notes about the application process for the NEA literature in translation fellowship, especially for first-time applicants, as I was right up until last night at 10 pm.

Believe people when they tell you to get an early start! The variety of information required makes it hard to get everything together — plus polish your translation sample — in a short period of time. I gave myself almost three weeks, from just before Thanksgiving for a December 6th deadline; I was starting with a descriptive essay and a sample translation left over from a PEN/Heim application, and I still felt like I was cutting it close (well, I didn’t just feel like it, I was).

It doesn’t matter what part of the application you start working on, but you need to read the guidelines and get a sense of the scope of materials you need. You might even want to take a look now. Especially if you do not have an ongoing relationship with your author or if you are dealing with a rights-holder that/who is not as invested as you are, you’ll need extra time to get the rights statement and compile an author biography and resume. It can be like pulling teeth even with the best relationships. And if you have never written a grant or have never written a grant involving this author, you need extra time. You are basically writing a monograph or term paper about the author and the text you are proposing. Also read the project review criteria, it’s a good anchor for when you are wondering what to include and omit from your application.

Register at arts.gov to see what the site is like, click around. And go back again within 60 days of the grant deadline to make sure you can still log on. They make you change your password every 60 days, and you don’t want to be fooling around with changing a password at 11 pm before a midnight cut-off. I logged on the day before I intended to submit just to make sure I still could.

Before you get started, view or download the list of recent awards in the grant program you are applying for. It’s a spreadsheet with year of grant, grantee name, city/state, start and end dates, amount, project description (one sentence) and additional description (longer). There are a few things you can do with this information:

  1. See if there’s anyone you know on the list and send a quick e-mail asking if it would be OK to contact them with questions as you put your application together. You might not need their assistance later, but it’s always easier to ask when you don’t need something urgently. Don’t forget to congratulate them on their award and ask them how the project is going if the grant was recent.
  2. You can’t sort the entries by language (unless you add a column and extract that information yourself), but you can use the ‘find’ function to see the awards given for translations from your language and country of origin. If you do this before you’ve got your heart set on a project, you will have time to shift gears if your project looks too much like a recent or past award (same author, same corpus of work, same historical period). You want to be sure when you say “this is the first X to be translated into English” that someone hasn’t beat you to it. Also, go back to the review criteria to see how the awarded projects addressed those criteria in their descriptions.
  3. Most important for me was reading the project descriptions. When I wrote my description, I was focusing only on the plot of the play — it did not occur to me to include information about awards, context, social relevance… But after reading past descriptions, I had a better sense of what I needed to include for a more compelling and complete short description. By the way, from trial and error I can tell you that the form has a 1,000 character limit. The way I write, that’s about 165 words.
  4. If you do find a grant related to what you are working on, now you have a potential source of information for writing your own grant. Perhaps the awarded translator has published about her project — those articles can provide a starting point for your own research, either background or references you can follow up on. You might have a completely different take on the work, and it would be good to be aware that you are contradicting the views of a past award-winner.

Once you start preparing your files, even if you don’t have any questions, read the FAQ for the application. I realized from a few that I was thinking about things the wrong way. For instance, I listed a bunch of publications on the eligibility page (Attachment 3), but I read in the FAQ, “please don’t” — include only as many publications as will establish eligibility, whether that is one book at 120 pages or 10 journal articles at 2 pages each.

Another mundane piece of advice — pay attention to file sizes. This year’s instructions limited any one attachment to 2MB. If you’re working from a scanned original document, like book pages, where you don’t have access to the original itself and can’t scan it again at lower resolution, you might have to figure out how to reduce the file size of what you do have. There is an option under the Document tab in Adobe Acrobat called “reduce file size” — you can run it repeatedly, but make sure you’re not creating an illegible original. And need I say you should make a copy to work with?

Some odds and ends I had questions about but didn’t see instructions for on the site. I called the day of the deadline and expected some finger-wagging, but the person who answered didn’t sound frazzled or lecture me at all.

  1. Each section of the narrative (Attachment 2) needs a header with the section number. I only found out when I called to ask if headers were a good idea. As I understand it, that means a header with the file name on the left (in my case GordonNarrative) and the section number and page number (e.g., Section1: Translator’s resume, p. 1 of 3) on the right. What that means to me is that if you don’t know how to work with section breaks in Word, you are better off keeping all your sections as separate documents, then you can create PDFs from each one and compile them into one PDF document at the end.
  2. For sections that do not pertain to you, it’s OK to either skip them or to include a blank page with, for instance, “2. Information about collaboration: N/A, this project is not a collaboration,” at the top of the page. I called to ask about this and the person who helped me suggested including a sentence of explanation, so this was my solution (instead of just “N/A”). I included the blank pages for sections 2 (collaboration) and 5 (retranslation), but not for 9 (flawed translation if your project is a retranslation), which comes at the very end.
  3. It’s fine, and even preferred, to insert your original text in landscape orientation if that’s how the scan was done. No one wants to have to read sideways on a computer monitor, and the cardinal rule of grant applications is “don’t annoy the reviewers.”
  4. Because the Library of Congress entry for the book I was using to establish eligibility does not list me as the translator (that’s another blog post!), I asked if I should attach the copyright page of the book itself. I was told that I didn’t have to but that I could. In other words, I wouldn’t get dinged for providing more information than strictly necessary (the guy read my mind!) I went ahead and attached it, with a short explanation.
  5. It is not necessary to change the name of the PDF application form itself. I added “_Gordon” at the end anyway. I did not have a problem with the submission process, so I guess it’s OK to do it.

I grumbled the whole way through the application process. Wouldn’t my time be better spent translating? But (and this is another piece of advice), after giving my draft description to someone else to read and critique (do this, possibly multiple people and multiple times, and definitely not at the last minute!), I realized how important it is to be able to talk about your work and get other people excited about it. Unless we are translating purely for our own enjoyment, without wishing to share our work or the author’s work with others, we are not done when the translation is done. In fact, it seems to me that translating is the easy part. Then we have to find a publisher or reviewer, or place the book in bookstores, or sell copies of the book; or for me, find someone to direct the play or produce the play or publish the play, not to mention attend a performance of the play! We can translate something in, say, six months to a year, but we will be promoting that thing for, potentially, the rest of our lives. We better have something to say about it.

So I say start early, and build in time to think, because only after starting do you realize (1) how much you care about the work, (2) how much you want to say about it because you care so much, and (3) how hard it is to edit your own writing to fit into the two-page limit. At least that was my experience.

For more advice, see this summary of a meeting of DC-Area Literary Translators: http://www.dc-alt.com/archives/november-6-2016-translation-grants-fellowships, in which Katherine Young, winner of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) translation fellowship, Lara Vergnaud, recipient of a 2013 PEN/Heim Translation Grant and a 2015 French Voices Grant, and Tanya Paperny, recipient of translation fellowships from Vermont Studio Center and Ledig House, discussed their respective awards and gave advice on applying.

Finalist!

ltannc-2016-11-14


Winner:
“Danica Mae” and other poems, by Jim Pascual Augustin

Finalists:
“Meat” by Ilija Đurović, translated by Paula Gordon

Five poems by Ewa Elżbieta Nowakowska, translated by Karen Kovacik


 

Lunch Ticket is a literary and art journal from the MFA community at Antioch University Los Angeles. They host The Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation & Multi-Lingual Texts. The Gabo Prize is funded by writers, translators, and Antioch University Los Angeles MFA Alumni Allie Marini and Jennifer McCharen, who launched the prize to support the work of peer translators. [quoted from the website]


The works will appear in the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of the journal and are not available on the website yet, but you can be sure I’ll post a link here when they are (update: http://lunchticket.org/meat/)! I’ll have more to say about the story and the author and the translation process then.

Congratulations to Jim Pascual Augustin and Karen Kovacik!

War from a tween’s perspective

One day after the Facebook post that was heard around the region, I saw another post about what war was like—this time from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl. In this piece we experience the days and weeks immediately preceding the siege, the down-to-the-wire relocation, and then the years of day-to-day survival in a city without electricity, central heating, communication, freedom of movement, access to food. I thought Lejla’s post would be the beginning of a series of responses (in fact, I hoped it would be), but that does not seem to have happened. It is understandable, though. Based on the first-person accounts of war that I have read and from meeting some of the people who wrote them, it takes an extraordinarily strong person to go back ‘there’ and relive the experiences and select those events and details that can be put into words—and then to do just that.

Many thanks to Lejla for allowing me to translate and publish her post. I also thank Adela, a friend and colleague from my Sarajevo Film Festival days and one of those kids from Lejla’s building on Koševsko Brdo, for introducing me to Lejla and commenting on my translation. 

lbp-01

What is war? (from the perspective of a 12-year-old kid from Sarajevo)

War is something that sneaks into your home one morning, and Dad turns on the television and the radio (in 1992 we didn’t have the Internet or websites) and turns up the volume, little by little, until both are going full blast. Then he dials the phone (in 1992 there were no cell phones), calling friends, family, acquaintances and strangers—even he has no idea who he’s calling, the main thing is that he’s doing something. When he’s not calling, he’s pacing from window to window. He picks up the television remote and curses because the sound doesn’t go any higher than 100. He goes to the radio and turns the knob that is already turned up to the max, and then he starts scanning through frequencies, and at maximum volume the radio shrieks, crackles, roars, thumps your brain. That’s not enough for him, so he goes down to the basement and brings up some old-time radio, plugs it in and turns it on, raps it a few times, and when he hears that specific sound produced by the overlapping of two different stations, he turns up the sound. And he’s still not satisfied, so he gets his little transistor radio from the knapsack where he keeps his fishing gear, extends the antenna as if he’s trying to receive a signal from Mars, and turns up the volume. Then he comes in to my room, where I’m trying to watch MTV. He curses MTV and switches to the news. I get ready to go out because I really can’t take the assault on my eardrums any longer. He screams, “Where are you going? Don’t you dare move!” I protest. While we’re fighting, a neighbor walks in our front door and says quietly: “War.”

Every day shells fall in Sarajevo. Vogošća is quiet. Every day Mom goes to work in Sarajevo. Every day Dad calls friends and family and old neighbors from Koševsko Brdo and tells them to come stay with us in Vogošća. Everyone says the same thing: “Oh, this will be over soon.” Every day the same, but the days are passing.

Dad readies the basement. He brings beds down there, buys food, cans, stacks them in the basement. He prepares as if he knows what’s needed, as if he has already lived through a war. But he hasn’t. None of this makes any sense to my sister and me.

Beginning of April. Everything is the same with one exception: One evening our next-door neighbor Nešo brings over a Kalashnikov rifle and a few hand grenades, then puts Dad and another neighbor in charge of guarding our apartment building and all the tenants. From whom, from what, no one has any idea. Anyway, the three of them cover the building’s front doors and windows with newspapers (Oslobođenje, AS), stack sandbags, make barricades.

On 19 April 1992, tanks—personnel carriers—enter Vogošća. Mom is at work. Someone rings the doorbell and I answer it before Dad can yell “Stop!” Nešo is at the door. He speaks to Dad quickly and quietly. He gives Dad something wrapped in a child’s sweatshirt and tells us to leave right away.

Dad is starting to act crazy. This is not my father, I think, watching him throw things willy-nilly into a suitcase. Mom, who has returned from work, says we shouldn’t waste time straightening up, we should go immediately.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“I have no idea,” he answers.

No, this is definitely not my father, I think. In my child’s naiveté, I pack my favorite book and two Barbie dolls into a small cardboard suitcase bought in Hungary at the end of the 1980s. My sister, who had just started first grade that year, tries to fit her Barbie doll and her first-grade reader into her even smaller suitcase.

I still think my father is crazy an hour later, as he floors it and speeds like a madman through Vogošća. We encounter the first barricade at TAS—Tvornica Automobila Sarajevo, the VW manufacturing plant. They want to know where we’re headed.

“To my brother-in-law’s for coffee,” my father answers.

The man in the camouflage uniform holding a gun looks at us, looks at Dad’s papers, looks at our cardboard suitcases, and looks at us again. “OK, be back by evening,” he says, returning Dad’s papers.

Dad resumes speeding through Hotonj and up Kobilja Glava until he hits another barricade in Bare. Again men in camouflage uniforms with guns. They also want to know where we’re headed. They get the same answer. They behave the same as the first ones, like they don’t really believe what they’re hearing. “How is it there,” they ask, and all sorts of other things, but finally they let us pass.

Dad resumes driving, not saying anything, lighting cigarette after cigarette. We arrive at my uncle’s place and get out of the car, but Dad doesn’t move from the driver’s seat. Mom looks at him and he tells her, his voice shaking, “Just one more cigarette. You all go in…”

What I didn’t know was that Nešo had given Dad a handgun, and that Dad was not sure, if the soldiers didn’t let us past the barricades, who he would shoot—them, or us.

We didn’t return home that evening; we didn’t return home for the next few years. Vogošća was soon cut off from Sarajevo by force. You couldn’t get from here to there or cross from there to here. You couldn’t, but some people still got across, secretly, through the forest, for the first few days. Our neighbor Nešo, who stayed on the other side in Vogošća, escorted these people up to the barricades manned on our side by the Bosnian Army Green Berets. Some of the soldiers were men he’d grown up with, worked with, gotten to know. They would all joke around, smoke a few cigarettes, and then Nešo would return to Vogošća. That is, until one day his people killed him because they found out what he was doing.

His? Ours? Theirs? Yours? Who’s who?

A few months with my mother’s brother in a one-bedroom apartment. Two families: four adults, three children and one baby. No electricity. No water. Shells are falling. They’re aiming over our heads at the telecommunications tower at the peak of Hum Brdo. No glass left in the window frames. We walk hunched over, or crawl, so as not to be seen through the windows. Less and less food. The baby, my cousin, doesn’t even cry, as if she knows there’s no sense in crying.

In the summer of 1992 we move to an apartment on Koševsko Brdo, the apartment of a journalist who went over their side. Theirs? Ours? Once in a while people in uniforms come in and ransack the apartment, taking away everything of value. They say they are from our side and that it is evidence against the other side, proof that they had been preparing this for a long time.

Them? Us?

In December 1992, Dad is wounded by a shell. Severely. Operations. Fixators. Operations. Clinical death. Operations. Crutches. Invalid. He can’t go to work, so everything falls on Mom’s shoulders. She goes to work hungry. As snipers shoot over her head, she rolls discarded tires up Gorica Street to our apartment to be used as fuel, so she can make us lunch, so we can warm up a little. She sews by candlelight, making jackets out of sleeping bags in exchange for a few kilograms of flour. Money in Sarajevo is worthless. When the candles are gone, she sews from memory. And from memory I call up pictures and play out scenes from books.

In spring 1993, we kids from Koševsko Brdo go out for water. We carry five-liter jugs (two or three tied together with rope). We walk a few kilometers to the train station or we wait for the cistern-truck that comes after nightfall, and we are careful not to spill a single drop. We go to school, we try to live as if there were no war—we play hide-and-seek, badminton, chess, cards. We fall in love, we fight. And at every opportunity snipers aim at us, sometimes hitting, but most of the time missing on purpose. After every shell that slams down near us but doesn’t hit us, we laugh hysterically. When we hear that someone close to us has been killed, we don’t cry. We live in convulsions.

The year 1993 is the most difficult year of the war because all food reserves have been eaten. A kilogram of sugar costs 80 DEM, a liter of oil 35 DEM, a chocolate bar 15 DEM, one egg 10 DEM. But there’s no money. ‘Bread’ made of rice from a pressure cooker, ‘pâté’ made of yeast, ‘Eurocrem’ from powdered milk and cocoa from a past life, ‘butter pastry’ from humanitarian aid canned beef, ‘cheese pie’ from rice and primrose petals (to provide the color of egg), ‘salad’ from dandelion greens, ‘vegetable stew’ from rice… All the families in the building cook on a wood-burning stove installed in the foyer of the third floor; using just two logs, everyone can cook their main meal and bake a loaf of bran bread.

We’re happy when we get a lunch packet—Chicken à la King, powdered drink mix (which we kids take outside, share with our friends, licking powder from our palms), cookies, powdered milk, herring in sauce, peanut butter, dried fruit, one deciliter of oil per person… We read books in semidarkness, by candlelight or the open flame of a gas torch. We read a lot of books, we live other people’s lives while the people around us are dying. Water restrictions. Gas restrictions. Life restrictions.

By winter 1994 we are living in a city of death. We are hungry, thirsty, freezing. We live without summer vacation, without winter vacation, without a past, without a future. Everything they taught us before the war has been negated during the war. Lost in the present. We don’t expect to survive until tomorrow, to laugh hysterically after the next shell lands. We become tired and worn out. Shells fall instead of rain. The sun means nothing. We don’t even see the blue sky. Snow or heat, it’s all the same to us. We haven’t been down to the basement, to the bomb shelter, for ages. We don’t run when they shoot from Poljine, we just stand aside for a moment and then continue what we were doing. Why run when there’s no escape? Still, we go through the motions of a normal life: we go to school, we study, we try to keep up with the world while we get farther and farther away from ourselves. We slowly go crazy, each in his or her own way… No one says “oh, this will be over soon” anymore.

Fall 1995 and the end of the war. It is a strange feeling to go outside in the morning and… silence. No shells. No awful feeling that someone is watching you. Silence. Everything is destroyed. Buildings in ruins, windows without glass, apartments without people. And birds are singing. Maybe they were singing the whole time, but the shelling was louder than their song.

And, just like that, life goes on. Like nothing happened. Like all of us were only dreaming. Having nightmares. And, finally we woke up and it took us a little time to realize… to realize what? That all of it was pointless. Because people learned nothing from it, because they will always find some idiotic reason to justify doing it all over again…

So that is war (in a watered-down version because the full version requires much more space). And now, 21 years later, there are some people who want to do it all over again.

 Translated by Paula Gordon
Image of map is a screen shot of the siege of Sarajevo map, showing siege lines and
shelling targets as of July 1995. Image © openstreetmap.org and CARTO

About the author, Lejla Balagić Pavlović
I was born in Sarajevo in 1979. After finishing high school in Sarajevo, I studied comparative literature and pedagogy, graduating in 2006. I worked for five years at BH Radio 1 on the drama program, adapting and dramatizing literary works for radio. I have two children, a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.

I spent the war in Sarajevo and live there today, in a very confused post-war period. I was raised with different rules, rules that are unknown in modern BiH society.

Literature is my first love. I adore books and have a strong need to write. I write a blog at http://perduto.blogger.ba/. I have three unpublished manuscripts, one unpublished collection of short stories, and a collection of war stories in progress. The inspiration for writing is inexhaustible because its source is always alive—inspiration is in and around me.

Translator’s notes
Brdo mean hill; Koševsko Brdo and Hum Brdo are place names taken from the hills surrounding Sarajevo.

DEM is short for Deutsche Mark, that is, German mark, which during the war was the predominant hard currency and the standard upon which prices were pegged.

The types of food are in scare quotes because the dishes were similar in name only. Instead I could have written “so-called bread, mock Eurocrem, fake salad…” For more on wartime recipes, see “A Sarajevo Wartime Cookbook, With Recipes Bitter And Sweet,” by Daisy Sindelar, April 6, 2012.

An online exhibition of the siege of Sarajevo, with a map (from which the featured image was taken) and various statistics, can be viewed at the website Sarajevo pod opsadom (Sarajevo under Siege), available in a few languages.

“According to data from the Union of Civilian Victims of War of the Sarajevo Canton, during the siege of the town, which lasted 1,425 days, an average of 329 shells fell every day, killing 11,541 people, of which 1,601 were children.” Translation of a quote from this Slobodna Evropa article.

There are many more resources I could post here, but I narrowed it down to these to reinforce that this story, for all its specificity, is by no means the exception. It is the story of an entire city of kids who grew up in Sarajevo during the war. And I am not forgetting those children in other cities, towns, and villages who experienced the war differently, who were separated from or lost their parents, who were driven from their homes into the forests or to different parts of the country or to different countries altogether. Some of them are beginning to tell their stories, too.

map-snip-5-07-95-with-key

War for beginners

I used to rely on an RSS reader to stay on top of world events. Now I use Facebook. I know I am not getting the whole story there, but I am definitely getting a sense of how my friends think, what they’re concerned about, and what is going on in their parts of the world. So when I ran across a shared post from Bosnia with the title “Rat za početnike” [War for beginners], I took notice. Here was a series of images, fragments, memories, from someone who had lived through and fought in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia as a young man, and who has no desire to be led into such an experience again. As a sign that he is not alone in his thinking, his status post received thousands of shares and reactions on Facebook and was picked up by major news outlets in the region in less than 24 hours.

I felt like this post needed to be shared even more widely, and so I asked the author for permission to translate it and post it on my blog. I don’t know Eldin personally and we are not friends on Facebook, but he immediately responded to my request and to a few questions I asked while translating (typical translator requests for clarification). I read in one article that he was 20 when the war ended, and I can see from his FB page that he lives in Sarajevo.

Links to articles about the post and a bit of backround follow the translation.

eldin1

Eldin Kurbašić
Facebook, 1 September 2016

WITH THE FLAMES OF WAR being fanned by patriots and flag-wavers of all stripes, from all latitudes and longitudes, carrying all colors of political party cards and property deeds, calling us to arms, calling us to take sides . . . It’s time to share some knowledge—knowledge of a strictly empirical nature, not to be found in any textbook.

War for beginners (from a soldier’s perspective)

(1) Your parents look out the window at a hill that has been devastated by a thousand grenades, and they know that you are on that hill somewhere, fighting. As they look they pray to God that you return alive, even at the price of your becoming an invalid for the rest of your life. Just so you’re alive.

(2) You do not have to be hit by a bullet or piece of shrapnel to be killed in action. You can also be killed by a detonation in which your organs burst from the shock wave. The first symptoms are loss of consciousness and vomiting of blood.

(3) You return from the battlefield and are assigned the duty of visiting the wife and mother of your friend, and his two-year-old daughter, to tell them that their husband, son and father was killed. You are advised to bring some sedative tablets with you to give to them right away, but they burst into tears as soon as they see you and your two comrades at the door, because for sure you do not have a smile on your face. And then you can’t help but imagine for a moment or two how your own loved ones would react in that situation.

(4) Exchange of bodies. Well, this is a special exercise for fucking up your psyche. You turn over 120 corpses because you are looking for the body of your cousin killed in action. I won’t go into further detail.

(5) You discover that when a bullet or piece of shrapnel punctures the femoral artery, the blood spurts out in a fountain about a half-meter high. You put one palm on the guy’s wound, and with the other you pull his tongue out of his throat so he doesn’t choke in his state of shock, which sets in immediately.

(6) You have about 10 seconds to stop the whistling coming from your comrade’s lung, punctured by shrapnel (i.e., pneumothorax). If you don’t have the proper dressing, the one with the rubber membrane, then the cellophane wrapper from a box of cigarettes might help.

(7) The speed of a piece of shrapnel is about a kilometer per second; it is an irregular shape, made of multilayered metal castings; it flies an irregular path, spinning on its own axis; its temperature is about 200°C; and it rips through flesh, bone, veins and arteries in a fraction of a second.

(8) “Mouse” fever: Even if while lying in your foxhole you get used to watching rats the size of cats crossing back and forth over the plastic sheeting above your head, your kidneys certainly will not get used to the disease that frequently befalls soldiers in the trenches—hemorrhagic fever, or “mouse” fever, as it is called in Bosnian.

(9) A coniferous tree will spontaneously crack and pop at temperatures of around −17°C, usually while you are on watch.

(10) The advice from the emergency medical team to dress in multiple layers takes on a whole new dimension when you are dressed in layers and have to spend a month, sometimes more, in mud up to your knees.

(11) When you have to ignore the nutritional value of the margarine you get on a slice of bread for breakfast and instead rub it into your army boots, because in the snow it is more important for you to have dry feet in your boots than buttered bread in your stomach.

(12) You don’t carry a bayonet to slit someone’s throat, but to dig yourself a hole in the hard frozen earth on some open field (in the course of an ill-advised assault ordered by a headquarters manned by status seekers and dilettantes) with a deadline of RIGHT NOW because you are under hostile enemy fire.

(13) An enemy sniper is more annoying than the most persistent mosquito.

(14) Your weapon must ALWAYS stay dry! There’s no such thing as a waterproof guarantee, as with certain mobile phones.

(15) The rush of adrenaline when you are being held in quarantine before a military action is nonstop and about 845 times stronger than the rush of your first sexual experience.

There is plenty more, but I think this is sufficient to warn all of you hotheads who are spoiling for another war: Don’t invoke war unless you are prepared to endure all this and ten times worse—you personally and your sons, too.

Translated by Paula Gordon

eldin2

News coverage:

http://24sata.info/vijesti/intervju/269556-foto-ekskluziv-intervju-eldin-kurbasic-govor-protiv-mrznje-me-nikad-nece-umoriti.html

http://www.blic.rs/vesti/svet/da-vam-objasnim-sta-je-rat-status-sarajlije-odjeknuo-internetom/g5bw8bf

http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/aree/Bosnia-Erzegovina/Bosnia-Erzegovina-le-parole-di-Eldin-174056 [article in Italian, with Italian translation of post]

http://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Bosnia-Herzegovina/Bosnia-Herzegovina-according-to-Eldin-174056 [article in English, with some background and a different English translation of Eldin’s post]

Background:

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s major political parties are established along religious and ethnic lines, and political speech can conflate party loyalty and ethnicity. And that’s not always accidental. (Maybe I should have written “ever” in place of “always.”) See Gordana Knezevic’s commentary on RFERL, “Bosnia’s Perfect Storm” (6 Sept. 2016) for a summary of recent events and statements that have contributed to the heightening of tensions in the region.

Can you answer these questions about your translation project? (FAQ)

When you have a translation project ready to go, here are some of the questions you’ll likely be asked — certainly by me, but also by other translators. In most cases, translators need to see the documents before giving you a quote, but even with the documents, we need your input to provide a translation that meets your needs.

(1) What is the language of the source document and/or what country is it from?

(2) What kind of text is it (for example, personal correspondence, medical record, birth certificate, school transcript)?

(3) What format are the documents in (paper, scan, PDF or other electronic file) and how do you intend to send them (mail, fax, e-mail attachment)?

(4) What is the subject matter?

(5) How will the translation be used? Is it for a specific institution, application, or audience?

(6) What is the approximate volume of the material to be translated (number of words, lines, or total number of pages)?

(7) Is there any handwriting in the document? Latin alphabet or Cyrillic? Can you read it?

(8) Is the document fully legible (or a fax of a fax of a fax)? If it is difficult to decipher, do you have any preferences for handling illegible or partially illegible passages? (Normally these are indicated as “illegible” in brackets.)

(9) Are there any charts or graphics that must be reproduced in the translation? (There’s no need to describe the formatting of birth-marriage-death certificates or school transcripts.)

(10) When will the materials be available?

(11) When would you like to have the completed document(s) in hand?

(12) If these are official documents, do you require a certification of accuracy, notarized originals, or other special handling?

(13) Does the project involve ongoing or recurring assignments?