Congratulations to Safi, our Interpreter of the Month!
Safi is a hugely experienced interpreter who has been working with Clear Voice from the very start, in 2008! His dedication, sensitivity, and the quality of his interpreting is incredibly valuable to our clients.
We spoke with Safi about his life, his journey to the UK, his experience settling here, and how he feels about interpreting. It was conversation that shared fascinating stories, history and an inspiring approach to the importance of interpreting…
Thank you so much for choosing me for Interpreter of the Month. I am truly humbled for being chosen. I want to send a big thank you to all the team for such wonderful support.
How long have you been an interpreter?
I have been an interpreter since 1998. I started interpreting when Migrant Help were at their original offices in Croydon. I was one of the first to join them and it was a busy time. This was long before Clear Voice existed. I then started working with you, at Clear Voice, as soon as you launched – in 2008.
How did you come to the UK?
I am originally from Egypt, from Alexandria. In 1961 there was a change in the government, and laws were changed almost overnight. The government decided to nationalise industries. My father was a banker at the time and was very senior in Barclays in Alexandria. Because of what was happening, he no longer had a position at the bank as the government replaced him with someone internal. He came from a long line of bankers and had worked hard and was good at what he did. He was quite remarkable and wrote a number of books and manuals for his industry. But suddenly he was seen as an undesirable by the people in power and this forced our family to flee the country.
But my family had to leave without me. In Egypt there is conscription and at this point, as I was coming of age, I couldn’t just leave with them. I would be stopped. I was the eldest son and it was unavoidable that I would be expected to serve in the military. My family had connections, so they set about getting me out of Egypt. I was given documentation to travel, with the expectation I would be coming back.
I travelled to Cyprus initially and from Cyprus to Wales. At this point most of my family had made their way to the USA. The idea was for me to follow on once I had made it to the UK, but I was a bit of a rebel in those days! When I arrived in Wales, I decided to stay there.
So you were all on your own?
Yes, I stayed in the UK on my own. I found a job, collecting glasses at the dock club – where Shirley Bassey used to sing – and worked my way up to serving behind the bar. I have also worked as a labourer in my life – you name it I’ve done it! From working on construction of the M4 to being a kitchen porter. My father always taught us to work hard, get a good education and have good manners and that is what I have done.
How did you come to work at Clear Voice?
I was working for a barrister as his driver. My friend had introduced us, as the barrister had broken his arm in an accident and needed a driver until it healed. I drove him between clients as part of the job. At one of his appointments an interpreter was needed and unfortunately the person they hired did not turn up, so he asked if I spoke Arabic and if I could help. I ended up interpreting in court for him as the missing interpreter never showed up. Afterwards the barrister told me I should call Migrant Help because they were in need of interpreters – so I did! I had an induction and here I am – I have been working with both Migrant Help and Clear Voice ever since.
Do you enjoy interpreting? How do you approach the more emotionally charged situations?
I do very much enjoy interpreting. I enjoy all aspects of it, I have always loved interacting with people and trying to help. Interpreting allows me to do both. It comes naturally to me to help, to put people at ease, to understand the subtle nuances of different cultures and try to disperse any animosity. I try to speak with refugees in their own Arabic dialect to put them at ease. Quite often the situation is stressful because both parties involved feel anxious, perhaps it is the situation, or because of cultural differences, regardless I do my best to placate both parties so that they can work together better.
I have never forgotten arriving in this country. I could speak English well and read and write it but coming to Tiger Bay in Wales for my first introduction to the UK was a shock! The accent was different to what I was expecting, I had to retune my ear and pay more attention. People speaking with colloquial language was tricky and so I understand what it is like for an asylum seeker. My point of reference is that I did not leave Egypt voluntarily. I had a beautiful life with my family there, I left because I had to flee. When you leave a country not by choice it is hard, it doesn’t matter the reason, religious, political or freedom of speech, they are all the same. The risk of leaving is hard, making the decision to leave is hard, getting out is dangerous and so everyone struggles. I remember my own story every time I help someone. I do my best to make sure they get to tell theirs.