Diabetes/Oskur Vo Sonde

July 25th, 2015 by Jessie Standish

Yesterday I had quite a bit of fun “translating” a pictogram into Umbundo, one of the most commonly spoken local languages. The topic was diabetes and I had about 60 graphics mostly taken from the internet or the “Where There Is No Doctor” book representing different concepts in diabetes including causes, symptoms, complications and treatment. With the help of several scrub techs, nurses, the OR secretary and a multitude of patients I slowly was able to write the Portuguese word and the Umbundo word under each picture. It was quite touching to hear the patients, some of them post-operative, call out from their beds in an attempt to help me to find the vocabulary for a difficult diabetes-related concept such as “heart attack” or “ taking your blood sugar.” Even “diabetes” is a difficult word to translate. We decided on “Sugar in the blood” or Osukar vo sonde which seemed to make sense to people.


It was also a great experience in part because the people with extensive Umbundo often have less knowledge of Portuguese are often dependent on their Portuguese fluent relatives in a Portuguese centered environment. Suddenly these same fluent Umbundo speakers, usually elderly patients, became the center of attention as the medical workers sought them out for help with a difficult word.


After finishing I printed out the pictures and the workers felt very happy with the final product. They asked to pin it on the wall in the operating room. Many people laughed at my inability to pronounce Umbundo words but also thanked me for trying to speak words in their language. In the process of translating the words and trying to find the correct words it turned into an informal talk on diabetes. For example when it came time to translate “eat only a little bit of funge” (boiled manioc) patients and nurses talked about what the concept of “a little” means and how for some people, they can only afford “a little” funge. We talked about words for portions and discussed the word koncha which apparently means “an amount that fits into your hand.”
It was a very simple but enjoyable exercise which gave me new respect for the complexity of the local language and the cultural hurdles that people must overcome to understand frustrating medical topics.