Roots, weather and eyeballs

I tried to explain to our new (and third) translator where the word ‘stakeholder’ comes from. When I try to do this an illustration from one of the Amelia Bedelia books which I read to our girls when they were young, pops into my head. Amelia, who takes every word and command from her mistress quite literally was asked to ‘stake the tomatoes.’ When the mistress came home each tomato plant was attached to a piece of steak. The illustration was priceless.

We use the word stakeholder all the time and often quite mindlessly as the meaning is well understood in English. But things get tricky in another language. I have learned from my work in French that an inquiry into the linguistic roots of a word can sometimes be helpful to get the right translation. It occurred to me that in a country of nomads, the meaning of ‘holding a stake’ may be hard to grasp. I was right. Staking a claim is not quite the same here as I imagine it was among the early American pioneers and gold diggers.

As part of the inquiry we learned about traditional nomadic life where the ‘claims’ to one’s dwelling (or rather moving stock) is entirely determined by the season and the prevailing winds. Knowing what it feels like to have Canadian weather fly in from across the large and cold landmass of our northern neighbor, I could only barely imagine what weather comes in from the vast steppes and deserts surrounding Mongolia. This must make for some wicked weather. Claiming a stake against marauders may well be of little use when the worst enemy is the weather.

The stodgy hotel we visited yesterday had an annex hotel somewhere in the countryside (this is what people call anything that is not Ulaanbataar) that consisted entirely of yurts and a golf course. The yurts are covered by a greyish thick cloth with the wooden structure only visible from the inside. There is a small chance that we get invited to someone’s 2nd home in the country, which would be a yurt and would require an overnight. Maggie is worried about this as someone who worked here told her that guests are treated to the best part of the goat or beef, the eyeballs. We are working on a strategy, just in case. I once ate eyeballs and freshly harvested intestines, still filled, in Yemen and remember the popping and spilling of the eye’s content in my mouth, but there the memory stops.

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