In their own voices: groundbreaking archaeology in Morocco with Fatima Zahra

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Photo courtesy of Fatima Zahra.

This third edition of our In their own voices series finds Arabic TED Translator and TEDGlobal 2017 attendee Fatima Zahra answering the question we recently posed to the 10 TED Translators heading to Tanzania later this month: What is one significant aspect of, or recent development in, your country that you think people (and not only TED Translators) should be aware of? Below, Fatima details a historical archaeological discovery that occurred in her home country of Morocco this past spring.


In late spring of this year, a team of archaeologists working in a region of western Morocco called Jebel Irhoud uncovered the oldest known Homo sapien remains to date. Before the discovery of the 300,000-year-old fossils, which include skull bones and flint blades, the oldest known Homo sapien remains were a pair of 195,000-year-old partial skulls unearthed in Ethiopia in 2003.

The new fossils indicate that the early humans who inhabited Jebel Irhoud physically resembled both each other and contemporary people. One distinct difference between Jebel Irhoud’s dwellers and us, however, is brain structure: Their brains were the same size as ours, but they were long and low rather than round. That said, the flint blades, which were found in the same sedimentary layer as the skulls and exhibit burn signs, suggest that their makers created relatively complex weapons like wood-shafted spears and that they knew how to work with fire.

But perhaps what’s most remarkable about the Jebel Irhoud remains is that they were found in North Africa, which, because of their age, prompted Philipp Gunz, a paleoanthropologist involved with the fossils’ discovery and study, to observe that humans “did not evolve from a single ‘cradle of mankind’ somewhere in East Africa. We evolved on the African continent.” The flint blades back up this claim: They originated at a site roughly 20 miles south of Jebel Irhoud, and blades of a similar fashion and age have been uncovered at other sites throughout Africa.

Of course, researchers still have a lot of work ahead of them analyzing the Jebel Irhoud remains, but their findings so far are undeniably significant for a plethora of reasons—not least of which is that the discovery is big step forward for humanity’s understanding of its origins and history.

In their own voices: Saudi Arabia, stereotypes and transformation with Hussain Al-Abdali

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Photo courtesy of Hussain Al-Abdali.

For this week’s installment of our In their own words series, Arabic TED Translator and TEDGlobal 2017 invitee Hussain Al-Abdali responds to our question What is one significant aspect of, or recent development in, your country that you think people (and not only TED Translators) should be aware of? Read on to find out why there may be more to Saudi Arabia and its people than you know.


It’s undeniable (perhaps to the point that it goes without saying) that media of all types shape many of our perceptions about the world. At times, this influence can be problematic: media are very often riddled with stereotypes, despite their attempts to remain “objective”. Occasionally, a degree of truth underlies some stereotypes, but that truth is usually so distorted and obfuscated by mis- and disinformation that we can barely, if at all, discern it. A case in point: my home country of Saudi Arabia and Saudi people in general.

In my experience, if you ask somebody who hasn’t been to Saudi Arabia what they know about the country, they’ll likely answer you with the following (or some iteration thereof): Saudi Arabia is populated mostly by obscenely wealthy, extremely religious and repressive men who live in a desert rife with oil wells and (yes, folks sometimes say this) camels. Of course, as I said, there’s a level of truth to this stereotype; but more than anything, this widespread perception of Saudi Arabia and its people glosses over the actual rich complexity and diversity of the country; it’s a simplistic misperception.

Saudi culture—be it religion, politics, education or what have you—is comprised of a vast array of perspectives and positions. On top of this, there’s an increasing gravitation toward coexistence, mutual understanding and what could be called “moderate globalization”—especially among younger Saudis like myself. We want to take part in resolving the numerous problems plaguing the Middle East, as well as try to apply what solutions we devise to troubles throughout the rest of the world. And when I say “we”, I mean both men and women; Saudi women’s inclusion and participation in our endeavor is crucial. A promising roadmap for achieving our goals has been laid out by Saudi Vision 2030, which was introduced by the Deputy Crown Prince of the Kingdom. This follows earlier similar initiatives, such as the late King Abdullah’s founding of the King Abdullah International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna, Austria.

On a smaller scale, there are lots of young Saudis (myself included) who translate TED and TEDx Talks, and who are involved in other progressive activities. Translating for TED, in particular, has enabled us to rethink many of our own ideas, perceptions, values, etc., and, just as important, to find commonalities in other folks, whatever their backgrounds.

That said, the transformation of Saudi Arabia I’m delineating still has a long way to go and countless obstacles to tackle. But its momentum is building, and a vital part of maintaining this trend is to encourage people outside the country to think and act beyond whatever stereotypes of Saudi Arabia they may have. I hope my answer here will provide such encouragement.

In their own voices: the TED Translators invited to TEDGlobal 2017

Last month, we introduced you to the 10 TED Translators selected to attend TEDGlobal 2017 in Tanzania this August. As the conference approaches, we’ll get to know these translators more in depth through a series of posts in which each of them answers the question What is one significant aspect of, or recent development in, your country that you think people (and not only TED Translators) should be aware of?

Nelson Simfukwe, a native Tanzanian and technology entrepreneur, provides in his response below an incisive and revealing look at how new technology is changing his country.

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Photo courtesy of Nelson Simfukwe.

In recent years, Tanzania has experienced a rapid influx of technology previously absent or critically lacking in the nation—from smartphones to enhanced healthcare systems. Smartphones especially have digitized much of our communications, particularly since folks here can now easily access the internet in the palms of their hands. However, many Tanzanian users of smartphones and other technology remain unaware of how our country’s burgeoning digital revolution can benefit them, both individually and collectively, in deeper and broader ways than just everyday connectivity.

We see a clear example of this in our agricultural sector, where communications and other technological advances haven’t penetrated nearly as far as they have in, say, the public sector, leaving farmers to continue relying on obsolete methods for large-scale production. (I should add that similar disparities are evident in lots of other Tanzanian sectors, too—not only in agriculture.) It’s my belief, then, that those of us here with the knowledge and ability to do so must begin spreading awareness of this problem, in all of its manifestations, across all sectors of Tanzanian life. But again, it’s not just about increasing access and connectivity; our society needs as many of us as possible to figure out how to leverage new technology so that we can take larger leaps forward, namely into industrialization.

Realizing this transition is, of course, a complex, detailed endeavor that involves capital, investments, enhanced infrastructure and so on—but most importantly, I’d argue, technology. And those of us in Tanzania with technological expertise, inventiveness, etc. must—beyond spreading awareness—collaborate, share and merge our ideas and insights. Then, and only then, do I believe that we Tanzanians can take full advantage of the new technology at our disposal to create a better country, a better society, better lives for ourselves.

Translating TEDx Talks at the University of Athens

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Educational institutions around the world have been using TEDx Talks as teaching and learning tools for several years now. At the end of last spring, at the University of Athens, the Department of French Language and Literature’s Translation Tools course devoted part of their studies to subtitling, which led them to translating nine TEDx Talks from their original French to Greek.

Spearheaded by the course’s instructor, Eleni Tziafa, the project started with the students’ collective translation of a talk by Gilda Gonfier at TEDxPointeàPitre 2016. This initial effort unexpectedly forced the class to confront the common subtitling issue of how to proceed when the gender of a subject or an object differs between the two languages involved: Gilda’s talk includes a story in which a man marries Death, who’s typically female in Latin languages like French; in Greek, however, Death is male. One student eventually realized that in the Greek song form called rebetiko, Death is a woman named Charondissa, and so the class adopted her for their translation.

After subtitling Gilda’s talk, the class broke into groups of four to five students in order to translate eight more TEDx Talks from events such as TEDxCannes, TEDxChampsElyseesSalon and TEDxParis, to list a few. Everyone obtained an Amara account for the work, and eight students were designated as coordinators for their respective teams. One student, Christina Aggelopoulou, who was already familiar with translating for TED prior to the course’s project, helped supervise all eight groups.

The effort was a resounding success—so much so that the class arranged a screening of their translated talks for friends, family and university staff on June 8. Among the attendees were the Department of French Language and Literature’s president, as well as TED Translators Maria Perikleous and Chryssa Rapessi, both of whom reviewed the class’s translated talks post-subtitling. During and after the screening, the crowd’s excited interest was palpable, and it’s safe to say that everyone left the gathering inspired to learn more about, and potentially join, TED Translators.

TED Translators culture series: the clàrsach with Ellen Maloney

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Even if you don’t know what a clàrsach is, chances are you’ve heard one before. A Gaelic triangular, wire-strung harp, the clàrsach has been played in Scotland and Ireland since around the 10th century (and more recently, in many other parts of the world). It produces a plucked yet shimmering music full of melody, emotion and history.

TED Translator and Language Coordinator, Ellen Maloney, who hails from Edinburgh, Scotland, began playing the clàrsach when she was six (though her interest in harps started three years earlier, after she saw one for the first time on TV). A natural for the instrument, it wasn’t long before Ellen was performing regularly at a variety of venues: wedding receptions, local church halls, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and even a zoo once.

Most of the clàrsach music Ellen plays is Celtic, derived from her Scottish and Irish backgrounds. However, there’s a fair amount of Jewish music in her repertoire, too; in fact, she cites her theater performance of The Diary of Anne Frank as her favorite to date.

Curious to hear Ellen on the clàrsach? Check out the clip below, which is part of the soundtrack to a short film made by an Edinburgh arts project.

A look at the 10 TED Translators selected to attend TEDGlobal 2017

We’re delighted to announce the 10 TED Translators who’ve been invited to attend TEDGlobal 2017! The conference, which will delve into the theme of Builders. Truth-tellers. Catalysts., is set to take place in Arusha, Tanzania, from August 27 to 30. Read on to learn more about these remarkable folks.

HussainHussain Al-Abdali (Saudi Arabia)
Teacher
Hussain currently teaches English at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education. He attended university in both Saudi Arabia and the UK (where he studied at the University of Nottingham on scholarship), and obtained his B.A. in English. Music, poetry, philosophy and, of course, reading and writing are Hussain’s passions. A dreamer since his youth as a shepherd boy, Hussain is an avid believer in the words of Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

RiyadRiyad Almubarak (Sudan)
Engineer + freelance translator
Driven by his deep-seated passion for translation, Riyad has worked as a freelance translator since he graduated university with a degree in leather technology. He sees infinite potential in Sudanese youth to enhance their communities, themselves and even the world, and so he’s been an active participant in an array of youth initiatives in Sudan that aim to realize younger generations’ power to enact enlightened change. In addition, Riyad was an organizer and speaker at TEDxOmdurman, and he’s a cofounder of kushsudan.sd, a new organization whose goal is to increase and enrich positive Sudanese online content.

Audience members at TEDSummit2016, June 26 - 30, 2016, Banff, Canada. Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED

Lalla Khadija (Morocco)
Business developer + marketer
A lifelong Moroccan, Lalla lives in Casablanca at present. She works in business development and marketing, and has been a prolific TED Translator for several years. Recently, she joined the TEDx organizers community as the licensee for TEDxCasablanca. Lalla is a frequent traveler, a voracious reader (in Arabic, English and French) and a new yoga convert.

IngridIngrid Lezar (South Africa + Germany)
Communications professional
Ingrid is a longtime TED Translator and Language Coordinator whose professional work focuses primarily on effective writing and presenting, visual communication and multilingualism. In recent years, she’s added German-to-English translation to her CV. Ingrid hails from South Africa, but she’s lived in Japan and Estonia, and she currently resides in Berlin. Though a cosmopolitan, she keeps her native Afrikaans polished mainly through TED Talk translations.

JoachimJoachim Mangilima (Tanzania)
Data scientist + entrepreneur
Since graduating from the University of Dar es Salaam with degrees in computer science and statistics, Joachim has channeled his expertise into using technology and its attendant data to address a range of common problems faced by underserved Tanzanian communities. Translating TED Talks into Swahili, Tanzania’s native language, is just one of many ways Joachim works to empower people in his home country.

AhmedAhmed Omer (Ethiopia)
Communications professional
Ahmed’s work focuses on popularizing ideas, particularly in so-called Third World countries, that empower people in those regions to sustainably improve their living standards—whether that’s through adopting new agricultural methods or fighting poverty and injustice, to name but a few ways. For Ahmed, ideas equal information, and information is one of humanity’s most vital assets.

NadaNada Qanbar (Yemen + Qatar)
Government translator
Born and raised in Yemen, where she taught linguistics and phonetics at Taiz University for seven years, Nada holds several graduate and postgraduate degrees, including an M.A. in audiovisual translation. Obtaining this master’s degree enabled her to hone her subtitling, dubbing and voiceover skills, including for blind, hard-of-hearing and deaf audiences—skills which then helped Nada earn her current position as an expert translator for the Qatari government. In addition to these bona fides, she maintains a deep interest in gender dynamics, particularly as they pertain to women in the Arab world. An ardent believer in the power of dialogue to build solidarity among people the world over, Nada is committed to doing her part to build a viable, sustainable global community.

NelsonNelson Simfukwe (Tanzania)
Technology entrepreneur
Based in Morogoro, Tanzania, Nelson holds a university degree in electrical and electronics engineering. He’s a cofounder of Zeal Luminance, a Kickstarter-launched business that crafts indoor lampshades with African fabrics (such as ankara, dashiki and kitenge) and recycled materials (plastic, for example), and also produces ebony wood sculptures.

GhaliaGhalia Turki (Syria)
Entrepreneur + community leader
Ghalia is the founder of Magma, a Syrian social organization that develops projects to enable Syrians in their college educations and careers. She’s also president of World Merit Syria, an outfit whose mission is to increase awareness of sustainability and foster achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 (or SDG4, which strives to ensure inclusive and quality education for all people and promote lifelong learning) in Syria. A freelance translator and blogger as well, Ghalia hopes to eventually channel her work into the reconstruction of her war-ravaged country.

FatimaFatima Zahra (Morocco)
Citizen journalist
Fatima currently studies at the YaLa Academy’s Aileen Getty School of Citizen Journalism, a non-traditional educational enterprise that trains youth from across the Middle East and Africa in various modes of citizen reportage, always with an eye toward dialogue, storytelling and peace-building. Intensely interested in web development, too, Fatima volunteers as a content writer and manager at an Indian news startup.

TED Translators at TEDxZagreb

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On May 15, TEDxZagreb was held in the Croatian capital’s Lisinski Concert Hall. Nearly a thousand attendees convened at one of the region’s largest annual TEDx events to explore how they can BUILD.FUTURE.NOW. 20 speakers presented on the theme, offering an array of insights and lessons—from fighting prejudice with humor to making large scientific advances through the study of bacteria.

Around a dozen Croatian TED Translators attended TEDxZagreb, including Ivan Stamenković, who joined the speaker lineup with his talk “I’m a translator, what’s your superpower?” Through the story of his personal experience with TED Translators, Ivan detailed the project as well as the transformative power of volunteering. Check out his full talk here.

Ivan and TED Translators clearly made an impact on TEDxZagreb’s audience and organizers, as Karlo Matic, the event’s license holder, is now reportedly discussing a possible large transcribeathon for all Croatian TEDx talks.