This week Real Woman, Real Stories takes a Spanish journey with interpreter/translator/livewire Doris Millan and goes back into the archives of T&T history of past prime ministers and presidents and her impact on their Espanola fluency. We also learn that its a good practice to daily thank God for life as in Millan's words- "Senor, estoy viva, gracias!" — "Lord I am alive, thank you!"
"Hi, can I speak to the Spanish woman, Doris Millan, who is the phenomenal Spanish translator?" I asked after dialling the number I received through an email recommending Millan as a Real Woman. "Si, this is Doris. But I am not a 'woman' I am a lady'," the elegant voice answered in a distinct Espanola accent. I didn't know what to think. Did I offend her? Then Millan spoke in a cheery tone, "In Venezuela the 'woman' is the outside woman. Comprende? Ayayai...haha...Different cultures, senorita. Si Si!" I relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief.
A week after I met the petite senora for an interview in the heart of Port-of-Spain, Independence Square to be exact. "Dios Mio! Today was very busy senorita but I made time to talk to you. Life is muy hectic. Como estas?" she quizzed. Dressed in a black and white pants suit, her hair well styled and her make-up intact I couldn't believe my eyes. Probably in her 50s or 60s I reckoned, she was elegant, beautifully dispositioned and down-to-earth. As photographer Curtis Chase approached her with his camera she interjected- "Does your camera have...se dice...insurance? Because sweetheart I am sure than I can break it Si!" This fluent Spanish translator had a great sense of humour and Chase couldn't help his laughter. We both assured her that she was indeed photogenic and with that the ice was broken and the quick talking, witty T&T icon began her story.
"I moved to Trinidad many years ago. I was born in Venezuela. My mother was from Corsica, and my father was from Barcelona. They migrated to Venezuela when they were young. I always wanted to become a language teacher. Si. I moved to Trinidad and Tobago to study English because I had known French already. When I moved here everything became historia! Si!" And yes indeed what she told me next was indeed history. She was one of the founding members and former Director Principal of the Andres Bello Institute which was developed by the Venezuelan Embassy in T&T. "I was one of the main professoras. I taught Trinbagonians Spanish and English to Spanish visitors as well as translations. Then I spread my wings sweetheart. I became the one to teach all the high profile people. I taught former prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, Solomon Hochoy, former commissioner, Jules Bernard, former President, ANR Robinson, Sister Marie Therese of the Catholic News, former governor of the Central Bank, Victor Bruce, Father Kennedy (St Mary's College)..."
My jaw dropped. She continued, "Chica, former minsters Cuthbert Joseph and Muriel Donawa Mc Davidson, Mrs Pat Robinson, Justice (Jean) Permanand, Brigadier John Sandy, members of the Defence Force, Customs, Immigration, Tourist Board and many more. I also became involved in developing the curriculum for Spanish for the Ministry of Education Si! I assisted in developing the school texts Vamos Amigos..." I had to interrupt her, "Vamos Amigos? Oh my gosh, I used that text at school!" "Sweetheart there is more. I wrote five other Spanish text books for the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Education. I used to go to schools for free and teach Spanish teachers and help the schools prepare just before exams. Si!" This accomplished and amicable woman wasn't tooting her own horn.
In her folder she showed me photos and newspaper articles aplenty — philanthropist/translator/ interpreter. I learned that Millan did a lot of charity work. From the Lady Hochoy Home to the prison inmates to the Lions Club of T&T, this energetic senora who could light up any boring abode left her mark. "I used to go to the Lady Hochoy Home and do charity work with the then Venezuelan Ambassador. I used to go and mend the children's clothing, Si. But the prison was where I think I really did my time. I used to go to the prisons and teach the prison officers Spanish so that they could communicate with the Spanish prisoners. One of the days that I visited the prison I remembered one of the officers saying, 'Senora, you don't care about your people. No one comes to look for them!' I was amazed. From that day onwards I began visiting the Spanish prisoners. I taught them English and brought toiletries for them. Chica, they need someone to care for them and so I became that someone. I believe that all God's children are equal and that we should spread love to each other. God loves all Si!" Her story was inspiring. And then she informed me of her most noteworthy contribution to T&T society. "I used to teach the people at the Blind Institute Espanola. Chica, that was muy challenging. Si. I was scared. I had never taught people who I couldn't...se dice...gesticulate to Si. And I never taught people who I couldn't make eye contact with. That was my first experience. And guess what? They learned Spanish sweetheart. I repeated the words over and over. They didn't have ...what you call it...braille in Espanola but they learned. That proved that you can learn without sight. El regalo mas grande que yo he recibido..!" My confused expression issued her jolly translation of her last line — "The biggest gift that I have ever received. The verb haber conjugated and the past participle — recibido!"
The mother of two and Trinidad and Tobago citizen became excited when I asked her what she loved about T&T. "I love everything! Dios Mio, Trinbago is a paradise Si. There is crime all throughout the world so it doesn't matter I still love this country. My family use to wonder why I was here but Dios Mio I just love this country! I even married a Trinidadian who looked something like you chica. It seems like if everybody in Trinidad mixed with Espanola!" Yet again the trendy translator made me laugh. She smiled broadly as Chase captured some more shots. "You see all these teeth in my mouth they are mine you know. People can't believe it!" Surprisingly she had a full grill, something to be very proud about at her age. "How old are you?" I queried. "Hahaha I will answer your question this way. I was the young chica and Dr. Eric Williams was the old man when I was doing his Spanish refresher course!" she winked.
More questions..."Ms Millan..." "No sweetheart call me aunty Doris..." I began again, "Aunty Doris, what is your secret to eternal youth" "Ayiyiee... The power of Jesus and God. I am a public translator for life. He has given me a gift and I know how the bridge the Trini and Espanola because I understand the expressions of both and don't translate word for word but...se dice..sensibly. I thank God every day I wake up because I have been through challenges en mi vida but I am alive!"
I took a moment and reflected on all Millan had contributed to T&T from the high profile people to the nationwide education system to the inmates to her Spanish folk to the charities etc etc. I wondered why I never saw her receiving a National Award of some sort on Independence Day. This Lady (not woman) is a national icon, a philanthropist and nation builder. Perhaps her turn make come next year. Dios Mio...I really do hope.
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