Lima – April '12
In the past, computer support personnel working with Wycliffe and SIL met every two years at the JAARS center in Waxhaw, NC (see the section on JAARS on the Wycliffe and SIL page) for Computer Technical Conference. You can read about the last CTC that I attended, in October of 2008, by clicking here. Unfortunately, shortly after the Conference ended, the Powers-That-Be decided that it would be the last one. No more Computer Technical Conferences, in spite of the clear vote of the Conference that they should be continued.
It was with this lack in mind that SIL Americas Area decided to hold a mini-conference in Lima, Peru. Only members actually working in the Americas Area would be invited to attend, and the subject matter would be much more limited. The conference would last two weeks. During the first week, computer-related material in general would be discussed. The second week would be devoted to training in the ParaTExt Bible translation program.
So early in the wee hours on Sunday, April 22nd, I boarded a TACA flight direct from Brasília to Lima. Arriving early in the morning, I was met at the airport by a taxi driver, and converting my Portuguese into “Portañol”, I managed to get to the Casa de Retiros Betania, where we would be housed for the entire two weeks of the conference.
Lima is the capital of Peru. Situated on the coast, it boasts a population of well over 7 and a half million inhabitants. The climate is a strange mixture of humid and dry. That is, the humidity is always very high, due to the proximity to the ocean, but rainfall amounts are quite low. Temperatures are mild, neither very hot nor very cold, again, due to the moderating effect of the ocean. During the entire two weeks of the conference, not a single drop of rain fell.
Peruvian food is different, but generally pretty good. The coffee, on the other hand, was very disappointing (not that I'm that much of a coffee drinker, but after more than 20 years in Brazil, I've grown accustomed to it). I don't know if it is typical, but the coffee we were served consisted of a cold “coffee syrup” to which you added hot water. The resulting brew was lukewarm at best, and bitter from oils. A Brazilian would probably have spewed.
Food and “coffee” being prepared for break time
From the time I arrived in the airport, the general impression I got was of a country not as dedicated to the minute details of paperwork and bureaucracy as either the United States or Brazil. The people seemed reasonably friendly, even tolerating my butchering of their language with Portuguese. Overall, I came away with a positive impression.
One interesting thing I noted was that, even though the country uses the metric system like most places in the world, gasoline is sold by the U.S. gallon.
The Casa de Retiros Betania is a retreat center in Lima, Peru. It features multiple dormitories, at least two dining halls, and conference rooms. Our mini-conference met in one of the conference rooms situated above the kitchen/dining hall. In the mornings, the room was comfortable and cool. By mid-afternoon, however, the constant sun shining in through the windows produced uncomfortably warm temperatures, and fans were used to not only keep the participants cool, but everyone's laptop computer as well.
I ended up sharing a room with another participant who came down from the States. He had worked in Spanish-speaking countries before and spoke the language quite well. Unfortunately, he arrived not feeling well, and suffered through most of the conference. He claimed that it was allergies, but when I began experiencing the same symptoms the night before returning to Brazil, and then spent my first week back home barely able to climb out of bed, it became obvious that it had been a virus, and not allergies.
View of room I stayed in at the Betania Center
The Center is located fairly close to the airport, and day and night we heard planes taking off. I could have shut out the noise, but chose to leave the window open in my quarters because I don't sleep well in a stuffy environment. I tolerate the noise better than I tolerate stifling, still air, even with a borrowed fan blowing on me at night.
Panoramic view of Betania Center from window in my room
This is the dormitory I stayed at in the Betania Center
The staff of the Center will wash your clothes for you, but they charge a rather steep price per article of clothing.
During our one free weekend, the conference leaders organized a trip to see parts of Lima. A woman who works in the SIL office in Lima, along with another woman from a tourist agency, came with us as guides, and we rented a bus. I was very thankful that I did not have to drive! The traffic in Lima makes any place I've ever driven in Brazil seem calm and orderly. After a while I didn't know if we were going east, west, north or south. Then the bus parked and we all got out.
We were near the city center, close to some historic sites. We wandered around a while, taking pictures and sightseeing. Finally, we made our way a few blocks toward the central plaza where the national government buildings are located.
Billiard in front of a statue in historic part of town
A historic cathedral in the center of Lima
There were a lot of tourists running around, buying things, taking pictures and in general doing tourist-type things. We ended up going up and down various streets, checking out various stores and historic buildings, and occasionally buying things. I needed money and Carina—the tour guide who works with us—was able to help me find an ATM that accepted an American visa card. Of course, it gave me money in soles, the national currency. Later on, as we were walking along, I was accosted by a vendor who spoke Portuguese as soon as he found out that I lived in Brazil. I ended up buying 3 small llama figurines from him. They now adorn the top of my chest of drawers, along with other knick-knacks I have acquired over the years.
Part of the shopping district in downtown Lima
A pedestrian area in downtown Lima
The crowd watching the Changing of the Guard
After some wandering, we ended up back in front of the government palace, and got to watch the changing of the guards. This was evidently a popular event, since a large crowd assembled to witness the event. Afterward, our guides led us several blocks away to a restaurant that they knew about, and we had a very good lunch.
After lunch, we returned to the bus and left the city center.
During our day playing tourists, we ended up spending some time down by the ocean shore. In Lima, the shore region is heavily built up, with highways, shopping centers and other tourist attractions. The shore is actually quite steep, and in many of these places you can look out and down and see quite a panorama. In the end, we did make our way to the water's edge. Here are some pictures from our time down by the ocean shore.
Panoramic view of ocean shore in Lima
Part of one of the shopping malls along the shore in Lima
Our friendly and helpful guides to the city of Lima
Waves breaking along the shore
The first week of the mini-conference was dedicated to computer topics in general. We were all given 2GB thumb drives with texts and software on them. Each day began with a devotional message—unfortunately, usually given in Spanish—to remind us of the real reason why we do what we do.
We had Internet access through a wireless router plugged into the Center's ethernet network. This would prove important especially in the second week when working with ParaTExt (see the following section). One participant who had brought a Macintosh along with a non-functioning PC laptop, ended up downloading the customer evaluation version of Windows 8 to install on the PC in order to run ParaTExt the second week.
The interaction was good, although I still missed the greater variety of topics and larger member base that we traditionally had at the old Technical Conferences at JAARS. On the positive side, this mini-conference tended to focus on issues specific to the Americas, and did not concern itself with topics such as non-Roman scripts, which are irrelevant in our part of the world.
A session during the Lima mini-conference
The sessions themselves were given in both English and Spanish, most of the time with a translator for the sake of those who did not understand whichever of the languages was being used at the time. We had a couple of people who were new to the Area and did not speak either Spanish or Portuguese; they benefited the most from the translation. There was no simultaneous translation during the second week, but these monolingual members did not stay for the ParaTExt course.
“Coffee” break during the first week of the mini-conference
The days were full, punctuated by morning and afternoon “coffee” breaks and lunch. Evenings were officially free, although a couple of nights groups met in the conference room to discuss special topics.
Eating lunch during the Lima mini-conference
By the end of the first week, my head crammed with new stuff, I was ready for a break. The weekend sightseeing trip highlighted in the previous section about Lima was just what the doctor ordered.
A group picture taken sitting on the stairs going up to the conference room
ParaTExt (see www.paratext.org) is the premier Bible translation software in existence at this time. For a while, SIL programmers had worked on a project called Translation Editor (TE), which integrated with Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx; see the section about the technical workshops at Computer Technical Conference in '08 for more on TE and FLEx). However, after a while they realized that they were just duplicating efforts, so they began working with programmers from United Bible Society to make FLEx work directly with ParaTExt. There are still hurdles to be overcome, but at this point there has been considerable progress.
As mentioned above, the purpose of the second week of the mini-conference was training in ParaTExt. So we all loaded the latest stable version on our computers, along with sample translation projects so that we could play with the various features. During the week, different experts taught about how to make the most out of ParaTExt. I admit that, for me, the fact that it was done in Spanish with very little effort to translate made it more difficult, especially with native Spanish speakers. Knowing Portuguese helped—mostly with non-native Spanish speakers. I found that I could follow most Americans without much difficulty when they spoke the language. When a native speaker spoke, if I paid close attention I could get most of what they were saying. But as soon as I turned my attention to trying out an example that was being taught, I usually lost it.
Overall, it was still basically worth it. Although I usually tend to forget details of the various features, since I am not a translator and do not use ParaTExt in my daily work, the simple fact of knowing that they exist enables me to “figure them out” again, when people need help with the program. I highly recommend ParaTExt to anyone wanting to translate scripture into any language. It offers a chapter-and-verse skeleton structure, many different types of text elements such as quotes, section heads, cross references, etc., along with tools to check your work. You can save a basic formatted text in RTF, a universal format that pretty much all modern word processors on all platforms can read. Using the central ParaTExt server, a local network or a USB drive, you can set up a team structure and share projects among members, controlling who has the ability to edit any particular book or chapter. By defining acceptable characters and diacritics, as well as creating a word list, you can effectively do a spell check in any language.
I had had exposure to ParaTExt before, but by the end of this week, my basic understanding of the concepts of the program had increased dramatically.
Unfortunately, due to having to concentrate in order to understand Spanish, coupled with the fact that I had already taken pictures of basically everything related to the workshop, I did not end up taking any pictures during the second week. Sorry!
The mini-conference ended on Friday, May 4th, and on Saturday we participants scattered to the four winds. I had suspected that my roommate's “allergy” was really a virus, and by the day I left I was already starting to have sniffles and a scratchy throat. I hoped for the best, but when I got back to Brazil, as mentioned above, it turned into a full-blown, very nasty cold.
Again, my flight was at night. It went direct from Lima to Brasília—and along the way caught a good tailwind. The plane arrived an hour earlier than scheduled in the Brasília international airport, and the immigration and customs officials were not even there. We ended up waitihg for over a half-hour for them to arrive, so that we could have our bags inspected and get stamped back into the country. Afterward, I went outside, where the taxi from Anápolis arrived at the scheduled time and took me home.
It had been a worthwhile and enjoyable trip.
Copyright © 2005-2017 William R. Penning. All rights reserved.