South Africa Journal #3: The World Interpreted Through My Hands

July 14, 2011


When I first found out that the prices for a flight to Durban by the  17th would be astronomical – in the range of $4,000, I freaked out. Struggling for an entire week to find discounts for the airfare, I found some kind of contempt – an organization in Canada offered 2/3 of the flight fare which I found, and the rest I had to cover myself. I thought, maybe, I would do some extra fundraising. You know, I don’t really have a real job – I scavenge whatever funds I have to go overseas, volunteer my time, open offices for the Deafblind and live within my means. So by a miracle I was able to book a flight but the condition would be that I’d arrive on the 13th, 4 days before the WFD Congress began.

That was just dandy with me. I would be able to attend parts of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters Conference held a week before, as an unseen delegate – days filled with networking off-grid and lessons learned through conversation.

When I had landed in Durban, the first signing mperson I had met was Jose, an interpreter from Brazil. I had hopped on a shuttle bus just outside of the airport. I was scribbling notes in large print with my guide-assistant who ensured me that the bus would take me to my hotel safely. I was given a 75% discount because I had a double disability. Sometimes, being Deafblind does have its advantages. So, when I boarded the bus, a fella tapped me on the shoulder and gestured. But it was too dark, around 10pm Eastern South African time. What the heck did he have to say? A plenty. We talked through International Sign (I.S.) the entire ride to Snell Parade, the street where plenty of hotels were littered alongside Addington Beach.  Jose was very friendly and we parted by trading business cards and a promise to meet again over drinks.

Today, after being cooped up in bed, jetlagged to the maximum, I gathered as much courage and oomph, to set out for the hotel where the WASLI conference was. As luck would have it, I bumped into two of my cherished friends, Roni and Rachel. Roni led me into the conference room as Colin Allen was speaking about the United Nations and its position on the ratification of Persons with Disabilities Convention. I met Colin when I was traveling Australia, so a ting of familiarity swept through my body as I walked through the room by the back walls while he spoke about the very subject..


I was soon greeted by interpreters I met on my travels and through work – Alan from New Zealand, Bo from Denmark, Patrick from the United States, Regina from Hawaii, Sanu from Nepal and lastly, Timothy from Nigeria.

It felt so good to tactile with them once again. I even met new people – Colin’s daughter, Tara, an Italian interpreter, Marco, an executive of WASLI, Zane, a fiesty and sweet Dutch, Yvonne, and finally, a man I have always heard of, Nigel from Canada.

For the rest of the night, I bantered off tactile-wise not only with these people, but also with Barry, an interpreter from London, England, who has a fiancee with Usher Syndrome.

I felt extremely awed and inspired that every hand I tactile with tonight, most of them I had experienced meeting in another country – Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, England, and so on… and the other hands I had tactile with were from countries with sign language not similar with ASL.

That tells you, that even as I am Deaf and blind, I am able to put my hand on another person’s, Deaf or hearing, and I am able to understand their foreign  language as long as it’s in sign language. There is just so much power in it – than spoken language. That is why I am proud – and preach it – that I am Deaf FIRST and blind SECOND. I am content just knowing that I am able to tactile people in what, 100 sign languages? And still come to an understanding?

Oh boy, am I ever looking forward to WFD next week.



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One Response to South Africa Journal #3: The World Interpreted Through My Hands

  1. dianrez says:

    Awesome, Coco! Not only the experience and your telling of it, but also your viewpoints in the last paragraph! Handwaves and ILY’s!

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