Reffed out

Posted on September 27, 2006


Here’s one of the many interesting things I learned during the refugee law stint. You know how Egyptians and other Mediterraneans make a teeth-sucking clicky sort of noise for “no”? Ethiopians, for “yes”, just gasp. Like, a big shocked inhale.

When I first heard this, I thought I had just said something staggeringly offensive, and frantically read over my notes to if I had accused her of something or made light of her suffering (the problem with refugee law is that there’s not a lot of room for jokes, and I love me some jokes).

When it happened again, I figured, maybe she was about to burst into tears (which happens all the time of course) and so I adopted a softer tone, and tried not to bring up the word “rape” as much.

The next client was even more gaspy. I thought I was going to have to seek medical attention for her – I got halfway out of my seat in alarm one time. Afterwards I asked my coworkers whether gasps were Ethiopian for “yes” and they confirmed I was correct. They also felt at first that they were arousing massive indignation, and none of them could figure out whether the gasp meant no or yes. There are probably cases being lost because of this sort of thing around the world.

I’ll miss refugee law. Particularly the opportunity to say things like “Look, if you’re going to lie to me, I can’t help you. I’m going to walk out of here right now if you don’t tell me the absolute truth,” which is of course precisely why I became a lawyer in the first place. I’m guessing I’ll never speak to a client again, aslan. Although there was some talk of putting me into litigation, a thought which makes me wet my pants in fear. But the robes are so chic!

Posted in: refugees, work