The first day was the hardest. Aslı Döker stepped into the interpreter's booth at the Christchurch High Court in August, and the torrent began.
"You don't get notes, you just listen and you translate. It's like this," she says, snapping her fingers in quick succession.
After the first session, the 41-year-old full-time mother went to the bathroom and cried. Stories of devastation and loss are hard enough to hear, translating them "gets in your brain, into your heart."
Döker was a high-flying commercial lawyer who quit her home city of Istanbul for Auckland with her husband in 2016. They chose New Zealand for its secular freedoms, not wanting to raise their daughter Mila in a religious country. Two years into their adopted home, their son Atlas was born.
On March 15, 2019, the week before Atlas turned six months, an Australian gunman tore into two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people and injuring 40 others while they prayed.
The gunman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on 26 August 2020, after a four-day sentencing hearing in Christchurch that saw 93 victims deliver wrenching statements about the terrorist act and how their lives were changed forever.
'A huge thing'
The scale of the court case was unprecedented for New Zealand's justice system and victim support agencies: 300 direct victims plus immediate family members of the deceased, coming from a diverse range of socio-economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds representing 24 different countries, according to a Justice Ministry report released on 30 October.
Interpretation is crucial for non-English speakers to participate in court, and many of the victims and their families were experiencing a daunting foreign justice system for the first time.
Döker's job there was printed on her name tag: "Turkish interpreter". Over the four-day hearing, she was in and out of the interpreter's booth, translating impact statements when they came up, and beside victims and their families if they wished to communicate with social workers and court officials.
"Just there to help" she said of the work that is overcoming significant language and cultural barriers in an extraordinary meeting of very different communities brought together to seek justice in the aftermath of horror.
The world was down with Covid-19 and Christchurch was in alert level 2. Live-streaming allowed victims and families who could not attend in person because of personal circumstances, travel or social distancing restrictions to watch the proceedings. There were 28 interpreters in all, translating the live-stream into eight languages, or roaming and available to victims in 12 languages at the court house.
Döker recounts the moment a grieving Iranian mother told the terrorist she forgave him for killing her son.
"We just stopped," she says, describing the stunned silence in the interpreter's booth, "The words are easy enough to translate, but we couldn't breathe."
She rode up and down an emotional rollercoaster but had to maintain a professional front in the face of intense grief. Under pressure, Döker usually scribbles but couldn't during the hearing because of court rules around note-taking in the public gallery.
"Security came over and asked me to stop, so I was like ..." she laughs here, an index finger tracing imaginary tears rolling down her cheek.
It wasn't funny then, nor afterwards. For weeks after the hearing, she felt down and had little interest in the things she loved. "You come home and look at the beautiful faces of your kids and think, I'm so lucky, and why? They are still suffering, and they didn't deserve any of it."
'Not in my home country'
She was struck by the sensitivity and care shown to victims and their families, describing a "huge" orchestration of court advisors, liaison officers and support workers, their travel to Christchurch, accommodation, counselling, and allowances paid for.
"This could not have happened in my home country," she says. A sad laugh.
The same goes for the appreciation for the work she did. In her culture, she says "it's like, of course.
You get paid for it!" The sentencing hearing cost the Justice Ministry just over $2.7 million. Of that, interpreter services were $186,366 with a further $256,762 for travel, meetings and accommodation.
The Dökers came to New Zealand because they liked that "Kiwis, in general, are not very religious". Christchurch showed Aslı something else - that people who are different are respected as well and, in a crisis, protected.
"Human beings mean something to this country," she says, quietly moved.
"Religious, not religious, English-speaking, not English-speaking, the only thing you need to be valued, is to be human."
She learned this in New Zealand, after an act of terror.