She’s a one-woman United Nations, born of Moroccan parents in Spain, now living in the USA and married to a man of British descent, who grew up in a part of the USA dominated by Pennsylvania Dutch families, who are in fact German. Today the street where she lives in New York City’s “forgotten borough” of Staten Island has the highest Liberian population outside of Liberia, plus plenty of Mexicans, Jamaicans and myriad other nationalities. And if that weren’t enough to endorse her candidature for Secretary-General, Nawal Kramer is one of those rare people who is genuinely bicultural. For most of our conversation, she speaks in entirely accentless American English – just another product of the NYC melting pot, but at a certain moment she slips into the lisping Spanish of her native Málaga, and everything about her is transformed– we’re no longer among the skyscrapers and sirens of the Big Apple, but suddenly transported to the cool, narrow lanes of sun-blasted Andalusia, with just a hint of the Medina thrown in…
It’s not surprising Nawal feels at home so far from where she was born, because exodus and exile are part of the very DNA of her family. Both her parents grew up in Morocco, but after converting to Christianity when they were young, both became deeply involved in underground churches in North Africa. Experience of arrest and even imprisonment in Morocco led them to join a missionary group headquartered in the American Midwest, and it was during one of their many stays in the USA for orientation that Nawal was born. The trips continued to multiply – in fact by the time Nawal was a young child she’d visited over 40 States and was fluent in three languages (the third was of course Arabic).
But Málaga was where the family had chosen its base, and where Nawal grew up, even though she spent many vacations in Morocco. Exposure to three languages and cultures seemed a totally normal part of life, even at home. Nevertheless, the main cultural backdrop was laid back Andalusia, and it’s there that she spent most of her school years (with extended trips back to the States every 4 or 5 years).
It was over two decades ago that Nawal finally decided to move to the States to go to University. Having chosen New York City, she started out waitressing in a trendy restaurant full of celebrities, but her energetic pursuit of life was interrupted by a terrible car accident in 2003, which left her with multiple fractures and a month-long hospital stay, unable to walk for over a year. Looking back, she sees the calamitous event as a wake-up call – an opportunity to refocus. The years that followed saw her do a variety of jobs, from working at Yeshiva University to speechwriting for a Jamaican franchise, where she was a Spanish marketing coordinator. This sparked a keen interest in language and patois that has remained ever since. A stint as a project manager at a translation company, teaching ESL at a Community College in Chicago added to her passion. And so, it’s no surprise that Nawal now runs her own translation company, handling a wide variety of languages, primarily dealing with local clients, including an abundance of immigration documents, and working with people from all over the planet every day.
True, there are times in the individualistic dog-eat-dog world of New York that Nawal feels like an outsider – an experience that’s no doubt shared by so many of its citizens. People who come from so many places, and yet none. A multicultural mosaic of citizens whose exile affords them a fresh new identity while robbing them of their old one.
But for Nawal, a shapeshifter who glides easily between languages and cultures, this cauldron of endless opportunity is something to celebrate. A strong believer in the American Dream, she says “the fact that I’m a brown woman with a strange name has never really gotten in my way.” And though on occasions she misses Spanish music, her friends, and the easy-going summers, there’s no doubt that for her husband, their two boys, and Nawal herself, Staten Island is now home in every sense. For this (near-)native New Yorker, the transition is complete.
You can find Nawal Kramer at ProZ.com: https://www.proz.com/profile/1038017
This series, entitled Changing Places, is about translators who end up living in cultures very different from where they were born. This can be for a variety of reasons: sometimes they're drawn by the attractiveness of foreign climes, sometimes forced into exile. But all of them give us pause for thought on what it is to be a nomad in the 21st century...
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