By Alice Reeves

There are language barriers, and then there are language barriers.  So often overseas many of us seem to muddle by with a combination of badly pronounced phrases that are apparently hilarious to locals, and a copious amount of wild gesticulation.  And maybe I am speaking for myself here, but it is definitely very rarely I get the result I want!

Our guide and translator, Thao

Communication is crucial when you’re telling someone’s story, and with our tight, action-packed schedule, avoiding cultural faux-pas is of the essence. Fortunately we have been lucky enough to have most of our language dilemmas and miscommunications result in being given yet more delicious Vietnamese food, but now we’re on location in Thanh Hoa documenting to film the lives of our two female borrowers, something more is required to make things roll smoothly.

Thao making sure the team gets to where they need to go

Into that breach has stepped our fantastic interpreter and guide Thao.  While our joint STF and Kiva team has been grappling with the intricacies of a complex tonal language where if you get the sound wrong you may offend someone, Thao has been enabling us to speak to women we are filming and get a more detailed insight into their worlds.  But communication is more than just words, especially in Vietnam.  Smiles, laughs, nods and gestures hold a bewildering variety of meaning we are utterly unused to, and as Thao continues to remind us: ‘You must read between the lines!’

Without Thao we could never have achieved this kind of understanding of the lives of Ms Ngan and Ms Bich.  Her effortless switching between Vietnamese and English and continuous interpretation has allowed Phil and the team to capture the families, neighbours and friends of our heroes going about their daily lives.

Thao and workshop participant Michael have become quite the pair

Through Thao we have learned all about the local custom of offering beautifully intricate handmade objects that can be anything from a flowery display to a large paper ship to household gods or dead relatives.  We now know that once women here marry, they move in with their husbands families.  We have been teased about being alarmed at the prospect of eating dog (for all you pet-lovers – no, we have so far not succumbed!) and been introduced to the delights of handmade local peanut brittle candy.

With only a few more days left to go there is a genuine feeling that the team has found a small way of getting under the skin of the local culture here, and we are now working hard to illustrate this in the short films… Thanks Thao!

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