Three men (and about sixty women) in a boat


One of the odder things I have found myself doing in recent weeks is an auction on a boat, halfway up the river Vltava, in the assembled company of government employees, policemen, sex workers and feminists. A delegation of anti human-trafficking campaigners came to the Czech Republic from the Netherlands, and yours truly was drafted in to translate. Not into Dutch – I’m afraid my linguistic skills don’t stretch quite that far – but into English… or at least so I thought.

My briefing was that I would be interpreting a few basic speeches delivered by charity representatives, I was packed off with a book outlining the causes and consequences of human trafficking and told to ‘keep it light’. There was also disturbing talk of hosting a ‘humorous’ charity auction – consisting of the sale of women – or at least sculptures of them, to those present on the boat.

Needless to say, the first thing I did on board was locate my nearest exit, and failing all else, a toilet in which I could lock myself if all went wrong. I was also keen to locate where the hard liquor was stored on board. I had been mostly fearing the statue auction, and the questions of utterly bad taste which may possibly be raised therein, but it turns out I got it wrong.

… It was the initial translation - into Czech, I learned - that I should have feared the most. It perhaps would have been wise to get a few key phrases such as ‘human trafficking’, ‘exploitation’ and ‘labour migration’ down in advance – as it was I had to improvise. Maybe a couple of years of intense interpretation training would have helped me in my plight as well. In the end, the translation was judged to be ‘somewhat inaccurate, but cute’, and as Hrabal would write ‘the unbelievable became true’ with me establishing myself as the cute, ditzy one in a boat full of feminists.

After that, if you’ll excuse the pun, the auction was plain sailing. There was lots of prancing about and smiling and buying and selling of porcelain women. The evening was ended by a punk concert on top deck, which the Moldovan delegation, alongside officers from the foreigners’ police, seemed to enjoy in particular. I too found my sea legs, and put on my dancing feet. And there was at no point any need to walk the plank.