The time was 2 AM. I turned on the ignition key of Languages Africa’s Mitsubishi Double Cab L200 and we drove off from our Nairobi Headquarters Office. However, preferred to call it Our Interpreter & Translator Call Centre. We were off to Mombasa for a three-day holiday. Next to me was Ephrem, my trusted Co-Driver for the trip, one of our Tigrinya interpreters. His intense spirit often gushed into his interpretation work, something that resonated well with our clients.
Seated excitedly in the back-left seat was Hilina, a super-focused Ethiopian lady who was also a Tigrinya interpreter. Her braids jingled softly as I drove past a large bump on the main Highway to Mombasa. We called her the Buffalo Interpreter due to her ferocious spirit at work which had made her get the Mwalimu Token for 3 months consecutively. Next to Hilina was Jackie, our office Manager and Swahili interpreter. Her warm, albeit firm spirit made her a perfect fit for the Office Manager’s role. The final passenger was Ammanuel, a jovial bespectacled young Ethiopian man who was also a Tigrinya interpreter. Just like the other two Ethiopians in the car, he could also interpret into and from the Amharic language. This crew of 5 just like the BIG 5 were the ones who had excelled exceedingly and won the coveted seat in the CEO’s truck and holiday plan. The rest of the LA Team Members had just completed their vacation the previous week.
At the onset of the trip, the five of us bantered and laughed loudly. There was no boss or subordinate. We were just the Languages Africa small big family as we referred to ourselves, on a family road trip to Mombasa. The rest of the other members of this Languages Africa family were already back from the vacation and we're already fielding interpretation calls during our three-day absence. Such is the teamwork that enables work to go on all round the clock. This is particularly important for Over the Phone Interpretation and Remote Simultaneous Interpretation since it entails serving clients from all over the world, which means working non-stop through different time zones.
After six hours of driving, I knew that we had arrived in Mombasa when the air became hot and humid despite the fact that it was still early morning. We were driving over Makupa Causeway, the bridge that connects Mombasa island with the mainland.
“Welcome to Mombasa!” I told my four colleagues.
Although they were all in different stages of waking up, their faces instantly lit up when they saw the vast ocean beneath us. I sighed in satisfaction. Such are the moments that glue us together and underpin our organizational culture.
Our predominant value at Languages Africa is Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African principle that roughly translated, means ‘I am because we are. We are because I am.’ Seeing the vast Indian ocean reminded me of this value. An ocean tide isn’t selective. It raises all water and lifts everything that it finds in its path. Similarly, Ubuntu means that we strive to rise together. That’s why we provide free accommodation to all our staff who need it. As such, when business for respective languages is low, interpreters and translators of those languages don’t have to worry about rent because they have a guaranteed roof over their heads. That is Ubuntu in action.
Organizational culture can also be seen in both the individual and collective expectations of team members. Bwak, the Bantu Poet, once said that ‘misplaced expectations will shove you into a bottomless pit.’ How true. That’s why we have developed a culture of honest, timely communication that manages expectations.
People become demotivated when their expectations, however misplaced, are not met. We preempt this by having a brutally honest, highly interactive staff meeting every Friday. In this meeting, each of our staff members is given time to air grievances, if any, without fear of victimization. It's essentially a heartfelt session in which people can speak not just from their minds but also from their hearts. This means that they can openly voice both pleasure and displeasure in equal measure.
After driving into Mombasa Island, I drove directly to the home of Susan, a family friend. I wanted my colleagues to experience a Mombasa home and eat a home-cooked Swahili coastal breakfast.
You cannot experience local culture unless you immerse yourself in it. That is why Languages Africa also organizes cultural tourism, which includes language tourism. This service immerses our learners into local cultural settings. This enables them to learn local cultures and local languages through immersive learning. Over the years we have continued to do Swahili Language Tourism Training, Tigrinya Language Tourism Training and Other African Languages.
After the coastal breakfast of chai ya mdalasini (cardamom flavoured tea), mahamri (doughnut-like pastry) and mbaazi (pigeon peas), we proceeded to our airbnb. I got to know the owner of the place - a young lady who owned four airbnb installments - and marvelled at the convenience of this accommodation. It felt like being home away from home. Incidentally, this captures our own cultural ethos at our Languages Africa premises in Nairobi. We want all our staff to feel like they are at home. This feeling can only be nurtured through trust and responsible freedom.
Finally, corporate culture revolves around group norms. At Languages Africa, our norm is to work hard and play hard. Which is why we were in Mombasa to unwind and recharge.
In case you missed our Mombasa Trip for November 2021, play the video below and enjoy.
Three nights later we landed back in Nairobi, rolled up our sleeves and got down to work, interpreting and translating into and from numerous African languages.