Reflections from a Drug Abuse Workshop for Translators & Language Helpers
Written by Miri, a member of SSDP Osterreich (Austria) Last month I attended a workshop called “Suchtprävention und Sexualpädagogik für SprachhelferInnen/DolmetscherInnen“ (Sexual Education and Prevention of Drug Abuse for Languagehelpers/Translators) facilitated by Fachstelle NÖ (Lower Austria specialist department on sexual education and the prevention of drug abuse). I only had time to attend the workshop about drug abuse and would like to share some impressions with you. The workshop was very basic and entertaining. There were a lot of group synergy and “get to know each other“ games that took around 30-50% of the time. The level of knowledge regarding drug use among the participants was shockingly low. I really believed the days of the “Haschspritze” (hashinjection, a term used in Austria’s drug scare period) are over and that nowadays nobody thinks about needles in connection with marijuana, but I was wrong. There was a lady in her 40s that grew up somewhere in Europe’s far east who couldn‘t hold herself back when the mentor/social worker was explaining about the differences between THC and CBD. She shouted “I know! I know! THC is the one you smoke and CBD you inject!!“ The mentor informed her that neither of them gets injected. A few minutes before that, when he was talking about heroin and cocaine the same lady made a similar remark, “cocaine is the one you snort, heroin the one you inject“. The mentor again told her that you can do both with either substance. She seemed a little obsessed with injections but also eager to learn. Most of the translators appeared really clueless about drugs. All of them grew up in either Islamic or Communist countries. For those from Islamic countries inebriation as a whole seemed to be a little bit of a confusing concept. I believe that for a few of them there were also some dynamics at play in the group that made them want to act innocent. For example, I couldn‘t believe that a well-educated woman that spent half her life in Morocco didn’t know anything about hashish. So I set a little trap for her. I asked her about “marjun“ (a Moroccan hash-baklava that is only made for very special occasions), and her smile and the way the conversation went made me guess that in contrast to myself, she doesn‘t just know it from books. But with around 50% of the group (like 8 out of 15 translators) I am very sure that they had an image about drug users that would be comparable to stigmatizing US stereotypes of drugs in the late 80s. Which may have been not too far removed from the reality during their childhood in the countries they grew up in. Another woman in the group, who had ties to Southern Europe and Russia, seemed to differ between hard and soft drugs. When I chatted with her, psychedelics and marijuana seemed to be acceptable for her, but she told me that she spent her younger years in artist circles and had a few friends that ended up dead or with totally ruined lives because they started with the use of heroin and/or amphetamines. Back to the Mentors: Their approach was quite nice. No damnation of drugs but instead they started a discussion about safer use. “We can‘t prevent it for everybody, but we can make sure it causes less harm to the individuals and society by educating everybody“. There was a little discussion about needle exchanges that made a few participants that at first saw them as a form of advertising heroin use change their minds. Another thing we did in small groups was to discuss “why am I not more addicted“. That was a nice little group work and also transmitted the point of view that everybody is addicted to some things, but there are mechanisms that prevent our little addictions from ruining our lives. The whole class then talked about what helps people relax and the teachers/mentors put drug use up there as an equal thing to everything else, like sports, meditation, taking a stroll, religion, etc. Another point was the exchange of vocabulary between the translators of respective languages and the teachers, who explained to us some slang words Austrian teenagers use and their meanings. For instance, if kids say “ich war chillen“ it usually means that they smoked pot but doesn‘t have to mean that, since some teenagers are also using that term for just relaxing. Also, it seems like teenagers very quickly adopt the local drug slang and only rarely use the slang terms from their mother tongue. This fact made me believe that the narrative of the criminal refugee teenager may also be told as the story of an innocent naive boy, who is quite easily corrupted by local criminal teenagers. All in all, I would say the workshop had a very low scientific niveau, which was very ok, since the participants were far away from deep scientific people, at least concerning this field. But it had a very nice approach to make the participants reflect on their own views on drugs and addiction. And it should be remembered here that this was not a training for drug abuse prevention, but “only“ for translators who may in future translate at drug abuse prevention events/classes/situations. Although a few of the translators also act as some kind of social workers, in those functions they have too many other things to do than to find the energy to also get trained as drug-educators. For them, the facts of legality and the possible consequences it may have for their clients if they do illegal things predominates their thinking about drug use. I “outed“ myself as being well connected in this field and offered the Fachstelle my/our support if they have questions, especially concerning psychedelics. The teachers also seemed open to future knowledge exchanges/cooperations, but also told me that in their field psychedelics play a minor role. By the way, they both worked some years with Check-it! and one of them even was part of it when Check-it! got founded. What can SSDP learn from a training like this? To make a big change we should also keep our eyes on local multiplicators. A translator, a priest, the innkeeper of the place all the old people in your area love, the cashier at the supermarket, the pharmacist in the local drug store, the newspaper seller, your doctor and many more. All these people speak to a lot of other people every day. They are usually not experts in most fields they talk about, but still, people trust their opinions. Sure the doctor should be an expert in medicine, but people talk with him/her about the weather, marriages, and drugs too. To enlighten these kinds of people on our work will pay off a lot in the long term. The knowledge level of a lot of very nice, kind and open-minded people may be much lower than we expect and the slogans of the drug scare period are still quite present for those people. To make them work for us, we need some pedagogic skills, low-level educational material, a lot of time to talk to them on a face to face basis and some charm.