Maria Irving of Urbandale runs a business in a former Windsor Heights car shop that offers translations and interpretations in 50 languages. Her husband, Robert Irving, runs a construction business in the same building.

If that seems unusual, her path to the United States was, too. Her now-husband worked with a guy from Moscow who was a foreign exchange student in Des Moines. One day when the gentleman was back in Moscow, he told Maria about this guy in Des Moines, Robert Irving. That led to some emails and phone calls and a series of monthly visits in Des Moines that quickly led to marriage.

"We met in August 2005. He came to Moscow in September, October, November and December," said Maria, 36. Robert, a Des Moines native, proposed in October. "I didn't know English at that time so we had to do this through an electronic translator, which was weird," Maria recalled.

She picked up English without formal classes after moving to Central Iowa. A trained engineer, she earned a certificate from Des Moines Area Community College in interpretation and translation. After earning a bachelor's degree in engineering, she lost interest in the field, opting for jobs in accounting, secretarial work and sales.

Now she runs Vostok International. She's the president and sole employee, unless you count a shared administrative assistant or the contractors who work all languages except Russian.

Irving, an American citizen, has been picking up work in the court system, which summons her a time or two a month when a Russian-speaking person needs assistance.She plans to get a special court certification later.

She also has worked for parties in adoption cases, drivers stopped by police, and for law firms. She teaches Russian as well.

Irving is active in the Iowa Interpreters and Translators Association Inc. Translation refers to written work; interpretation is oral.

The toughest part of the job: translating humor. "Humor is the worst thing to translate," Irving said. "I don't think Americans would understand Russian humor."

Irving has enjoyed the short commutes from Urbandale to Windsor Heights, a far cry from the two-hours-each-way commute by bus, subway and walking in her hometown of Moscow.
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