The perils of covering foreign affairs
Today, I went to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in downtown D.C. to cover a talk by Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who is in town for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. I expected this talk to be much like Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s visit the Brookings Institution, which I covered successfully back in July. But this time, I was to learn about the trials and tribulations that sometimes come with covering heads of state from different countries.
The trouble began early on. When I arrived at the CSIS, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the person registering people told me Keita would be speaking French, and that they’d run out of the in-ear translation devices that would allow me to hear what he would be saying in English. This meant I would have to watch the talk from the dreaded “overflow room” – basically a conference room filled with big TV screens that would be broadcasting the talk with an English translation dubbed over the president’s French.
I decided to make the most of my demotion, and quickly took advantage of the free coffee and orange juice CSIS had kindly provided for us. But after the talk started – about half an hour later than it was supposed to – the translation did not. Instead, I had the privilege of attempting to lip read Keita’s French from the silent flat screen in front of me. When the translation did finally kick in during the Q&A portion of the talk, the French-to-English translator didn’t seem to completely understand either French or English. CSIS brought in a pinch hitter partway through, whose translation was much better, but by that time I’d pretty much lost all hope of salvaging a story from the event.
As I drained the last of my free coffee – my one silver lining – I knew I’d learned some important lessons: always arrive early enough to get a fancy in-ear translation device and add learning French to my to-do list.
Post by Lindsey Holden