BLOG IMAGE Mariam Elliott

Mariam Elliott, Managing Director, Middle East Connect & Cultural Advisors

Mariam Elliott, Managing Director of Middle East Connect & Cultural Advisors, has navigated a most extraordinary and fascinating career as an Arabic interpreter and translator. Her unique experiences have ranged from assisting a Saudi Arabian Princess in 1970s London, to providing language translation and cultural education for support services to migrant women living with domestic violence in Australia in the 1980s.

Mariam translated poems for the gargantuan 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque memorial designed by Idris Khan and UAP, honouring members of the UAE Armed Forces whose lives were lost in service. She has also translated 250 hours of documentary film and subtitling from Arabic (Iraqi) to English, for Australian Filmmaker and Journalist Michael Ware’s Documentary Only the Dead, from his 6 years of filming the Iraq War. 

Much of Mariam’s work now is focussed on supporting business people to learn Modern Standard Arabic, to equip them to manage daily tasks more self sufficiently in an Arabic speaking environment, which she can accomplish in just 6 weeks.

Share some highlights of your London assignments, including Harley Street’s elite medical hub, and as private assistant to Princess Nouf bint Abdul Aziz (House of Saud) sister of The late King Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

My career as an Arabic interpreter started in the U.K. in 1975 when I moved to London to further my education. 

The Saudi Arabian Embassy were looking for a personal assistant/interpreter for Her Royal Highness Princess Nouf bint Abdul Aziz (H.H.). I applied and luckily was accepted.

H.H. and her family used to reside in Hyde Park, London for 6 months of the year (during Saudi Arabian summer), but in this particular year her eldest daughter Princess Jawaher was getting married, and came to London to order her wedding dress which was designed by a famous U.K. designer at the time.

I enjoyed this very exciting job and I never looked back. I finally found my niche, and that was helping people whether they are rich or poor, a refugee or a princess. Breaking down language and cultural barriers gives me the greatest satisfaction – when I see that each party has been understood, and no judgement in the atmosphere, no misunderstanding when making a business deal, avoiding all consequences that may arise from it.

As their Royal Highnesses returned home, I had to find myself a new job along the same lines. 

I had a good friend who was working for real estate agency. She advised me that her employer was looking for Arab Speaking people to employ as he was expanding his business as a group of businesses which included real estate, tourism and Medical tourism. He needed Arabic interpreters, as this was the time when many middle eastern (Arabic Speaking) people arrived in London to invest and buy mansions, as well as coming for medical treatments in London’s Harley Street, famous for its top doctors and medical specialists.

This company’s name was Arabic Visitors Services. That’s how I got the name as one of my two companies here in Australia. I know it is not original, but I like it.

Arabic Visitors Services no longer operates in London, and is now based in Australia.

When I first came to Australia in 1986, I worked for social workers and support services for migrant women living with domestic violence, as an interpreter and cultural educator.

That was another eye opener for me. I was saddened to see such violence against women, but it was satisfying to solve their language barriers. Those women were suffering when they were domestically violated, and then when they couldn’t speak in a language to express their problematic issues.

Not only that, but they also couldn’t speak to a friend, nor could they speak to a family member. That would be like hanging your dirty laundry for all to see, and family members would return women to the situation they ran away from, because culturally a woman’s place is with the husband, no matter what. In some countries, it is the right of the husband to beat his wife.

In the early 2000s I worked at the Department of Human Services (Centrelink) with refugees from Sudan and Iraq, which was another great experience for me. 

I am so grateful for all these experiences which I believe has given me the knowledge that I have today to understand human beings in almost all their different characteristics, and this helps me today with my current business.

I will leave this with one of my favourite quotes:

 The fruit of love is service, which is compassion in action.

Mother Teresa 

Tell us about your work with Urban Art Projects using the Arabic language. 

Urban Art Projects, was one of my most amazing projects. To work with such artistic fun people was the highlight of my career. UAP had a contract with the UAE Crown Prince, to work with a London based artist on the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque to erect a memorial for the soldiers of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, whom they consider was, and still is in spirit, the father of all Emiratis.

From UAP’s website: “The centrepiece of ‘Wahat Al Karama’, meaning “the oasis of dignity”, is a 90-metre long monument comprised of 31 leaning tablets which symbolise the support between soldiers, families and citizens in the face of adversity. Clad with over 850 cast aluminium panels, sections of the tablets are sandblasted and stamped with poems by emirs of the UAE. The ‘Pavilion of Honour’ positioned at the end of the memorial journey was designed by Khan in collaboration with bureau^proberts. The internal walls of the pavilion are clad with over 2,700 plates cast from 11 tons of recycled aluminium sourced from decommissioned armoured vehicles. The plates are embedded with names of UAE heroes whose lives have been lost in service”.

Image credits: Jonathan Gainer Surface Photography, Roger D’Souza, Ryan Carter / Crown Prince Court & Nev Connell. 

Middle East Connect & Cultural Advisors translated and selected the appropriate font of all of Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan’s Poems that were engraved by UAP on the memorial slabs, and designed by British artist Idris Khan.

Middle East Connect & Cultural Advisors also ran cultural sessions for the UAP Team who were working on this project. 

It is not easy to translate poems into any language let alone Arabic. In general, Arabs are sensitive and deep thinkers, the Arabic language tends to be a bit complex to a non-Arab.

Tell us about your work on Filmmaker and Journalist Michael Ware’s Documentary Only the Dead?

My work with Michael Ware, the Australian journalist, on Only the Dead was another highlight of my business. Michael Ware at the time was working for The Times, was assigned to go to Iraq after America’s invasion of Iraq, to cover the war from 2003. He filmed 6 out of 7 years of the Iraqi war himself with his home video camera. He was the only journalist who was allowed to interview Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, head of Al Qaeda (ISIS).

This experience has mentally and emotionally taken me to places I never thought I would be in, but it too opened my eyes to the truth of this war. I was asked to work on the 250 hours plus filming to translate this Iraqi dialect into English, and do some of the editing of the documentary.

I found Michael Ware a genuine, honest man. He does his work with nothing but the truth, no exaggeration as we see from a lot of media these days. Here is a link with Michael Ware and Bill Maher discussing Only the Dead.

You have a framework for teaching business people Arabic in just six weeks. What does the six week course cover, and who is it aimed at? 

Depending on the business between Australia and the Middle East, it is advisable to understand and get a few tips on Arab business culture. Being able to correctly read and interpret minor body language, due to cultural differences, can make or break your deal.  

The course will help familiarise you with the Arabic language in a way that allows you to read signs, news articles, menus and understand, and maintain a basic day-to-day conversation.

The course runs in two three-hour sessions a week for six weeks.

We will teach you the Arabic letters and how they connect to make a sentence legible, basic Arabic grammar, and the vocabulary that might be most needed in daily situations when in an Arabic speaking country. The course will mainly cover MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), which is the basis for managing your day-to-day tasks in an Arabic speaking environment, without having to fully rely on others. 

If you are a businesswoman/man travelling to the Middle East for work, a company representative who deals with Arabs on a regular basis or intends to do so in the future, government staff being transferred to the Middle East i.e. a diplomat, or just someone interested in the Arabic language, and you are on a busy schedule, then this course has been devised for you.

Your greatest challenge?

Public speaking.

Most proud of

As a sole trader and the only one working in my business for the past 15 years, I am proud of the high quality of service that I offer my clients.

Advice for future female leaders  

One of my favourite Quotes:

 “Whoever is trying to bring you down is already below you.”

Ziad K. Abdelnour

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Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.