(Both Jesus and David have read and approved of this blog)
I have often been asked by friends and family how I have met many deaf friends in Latin America, here goes:
– The international deaf community is definitely small
– The international deaf and gay community is smaller
– The Latin Deaf Community is small
– The Latin Deaf Gay community is even smaller
– Social media, especially Facebook groups, give that “glue” nowadays
As one perfect example, whilst gallivanting in Mexico I was introduced to you, Jesus, via a mutual deaf friend from Austria, Vanessa, who was meant to meet me in Honduras which got cancelled for a whole host of reasons. I was building up a list of useful contacts as I looked at places to travel ahead and Vanessa mentioned you. Of course there are many guys in the world called Jesus, but never have I had a friend with such a famous name!
We made our acquaintance via social media and quickly connected. I could see you had an aura of warmth, kindness and that you liked meeting deaf people from the world. We held many spontaneous quick chats and we also endorsed one another’s social media postings. I remember when I contacted you to explain I had decided to postpone Central America to the end of my travels rather than the rainy months of September and October. You totally understood. We kept in touch whilst I continued South America.
It was a nice flight from Cartagena (Colombia) to Panama, I’d had a lot of fun in Colombia and I knew Panama would be a lot smaller in comparison.
I strongly remember watching some of the World Cup 2018 Russia matches, and how gorgeous the team from Panama were. I know that even the England squad doesn’t sharply resemble English guys, but oh boy I was hoping to have a nice time “guys-a-watching” behind my deep shaded sunglasses! I was excited to arrive Panama for sure.
We gave each other a hug at the international arrivals area and you introduced me to your friend, who was also called Jesus. This was one for the books, to have arrived into Panama and met two Jesus-es!!
I soon realised your right side eye occasionally gets “misaligned” – otherwise known as strabismus. It was sometimes not so clear if you were watching me. We talked about this, finding it amusing as deaf people across the world have experienced this phenomenon because eye contact is so important to us all.
We got into your friend, Jesus’ car (I’m laughing as I write this, its as if Lord Jesus had a car! :)) and drove on to where I’d be staying. You had already kindly arranged with your friend, David, for me to stay at his place. David was deaf, the ex-president of the deaf association in Panama and 59yrs old. He taught you when you were younger, and has known you since you were 10yr. With his hairline receding and reaching older stage of life, David positively goes about life and has many years ahead of him.
After we settled, we immediately started to talk about plans for the 4 days I was going to be in Panama. Both David and you had kind of assumed I would be content to travel all the way to David (yes, there’s a place called ‘David’ in Western Panama!!) for eight hours on the trot, to then only stay for the night before travelling back for another eight hours. I had to make it very clear I would not be happy to. It would be a waste of valued time, such a long trip. You immediately understood and we agreed we would think of alternate plans over the course of the day. But for now, we agreed to go and see the Panama Canals and the historic town. With time being limited and me quickly realising Panama is not that small, we made a dash for it.
We got to know one another over the course of the day and I learned bits from you. I learned how the Panama Canals used to be dominated by Americans and how many Americans lived in one part of Panama. I learned about the history, how Panamanian people demanded the removal of the Americans, to own the canals fully. This led to a big vote which was won by the Panama people who wanted ownership of its canals. I also learned how the canals work! Amazing design, world class really.
As we are both gay we had several discussions about being gay in Panama. Whilst gay marriage is not legal in Panama, there are many gay people who live openly here. You told me about coming out to your family and how they found it very difficult to accept. There was a strong memory about how you were convinced to see a psychologist without your knowledge, and how they paid for a sign language interpreter too. You found this very disturbing and emotional too. It actually led you to eventually moving out of your family home and into your grandmother’s. Whilst relations have improved somewhat, you will never forget the denial and anxiety associated.
It is interesting to know how deaf people have fared in Panama. Whilst you have graduated most recently which your Grandmother holds a framed photo and certificate on her living room wall, there is no sign of a viable job yet, something I have seen time and time again across Latin America for deaf graduates.
I note how American Sign Language used to be dominant in Panama with teachings historically from people from neighbouring countries, Costa Rica and Salvador. David was involved in re-claiming Lengua de Señas Panameñas (Panamian Sign Language), much work continues.
I learn that David was made redundant recently and whilst he owns his house inherited from his parents, it is difficult to be able to afford to buy things, to meet the bills. There were no beds in his home, only mattresses on the floor. There is a desire to rent out two rooms to improve this for the time being.
Both you and David talked about global travel like it is a golden treasure. Whilst David has been to places across the Americas, you have been to Denmark for the World Federation Deaf Youth Camp, and this has always left you feeling like there is so much more in the world to see but you sadly cannot afford to do so.
Over the course of our 4-days together it is clear to me that both of you have so much to say. There is hardly a time when either of you are quiet. You both tell me about many things, and sometimes I struggle to know what to say, for example “the old hospital was there”, “the president’s friend got shot there”. It is so nice of you and David to tell me so much but there are times when I want to scream “Hashtag Information overload!” Silence can be golden!
Whilst David has known you since a young lad, he has also known you were gay early on. He has a real open mind, a lovely warmth that allows you both to enjoy many jokes that relate to sexuality. You can see it in your eyes Jesus, that you admire this older guy who has more or less given you that inner reassurance about being gay.
I like how you both use International sign with me however there are several occasions when Spanish vocabulary takes over and I simply have to tell you both when I don’t understand. We use visual cues and international examples to decipher many examples of complex information.
Is it Panama culture to arrange things at the last minute? There were many times over the 4 days when I wanted to know what was happening, where we were going, where we would be staying that was always met with a type of “We will let you know soon…” My Leo starsign character trembles at this! For example:
We were meant to stay with a friend on the first night of our road trip. We arrived into this town where we were supposed to meet this friend in a car park to then guide us to his home. On the way, he apparently texted you saying he didn’t believe we were coming and effectively we couldn’t stay at his place. There wasn’t a hint of panic in either of you. We were in a car park, it was 9pm and we didn’t have a clue where we were gonna stay! You texted a friend who ironically was just 2mins away and turned up, introduced himself and got talking with you both. It was beyond belief how he turned up so quickly, and then you all just started talking about his ex girlfriend and how astonished you were that they had split up recently. I was dead beat from all the driving I’d done all day, and you were just going on and on about the ex girlfriend. I hated to do it but I interrupted you all and asked what on earth was the plan for accommodation?! Some hesitation and acknowledgement led to us finding hotels at the last minute and eventually sharing a 4-bedroom!
Whilst David naturally plays the role of an older and wiser father to you, giving so much knowledge and advice from experience, there are times when you give David advice and knowledge, especially at the thermal spa and the roof top of Hard Rock Café! I liked this turn-taking I could see between you both and the bond you share. When we were at the beach, Santa Clara, I was sun bathing whilst you both stayed in the sea for ages, talking and talking about numerous things. When we visited the museum of ex-president Arias, Jesus, your eyes look up to David in awe, with a keenness to take in information and with enormous value too.
It was hilarious to watch you both laugh at things with sexual reference so many times. I will never forget David explaining to us both about how an ex-president of the deaf association took some Viagra and died in the middle of sexual intercourse with a lady. It was just hysterical!
It was clear that you both do not have much money to throw around. And whilst it was understandable that you needed to be careful, it was astonishing to watch David buy several lottery tickets 🙂
I was astonished as you showed me how people with the Deaf or Discapacidad card get 15% or 25% off their food bills in all restaurants – I couldn’t believe it. Greek food, coffee, ice cream, cheese-bread (Queso Chera) all were reduced without a hint of embarrassment on either you or David. A similar reduction applies for transport and medical bills.
On many occasions there was the cross made over the face, to say that life is with God and whatever he has planned will happen. You both wished me luck in my onwards travels and kissed your fingers on your lips after a cross over your face, it is sweet of you.
As the reader of this blog can probably tell, I found my time with you and David really amusing, a privilege and I really enjoyed getting to know you both. I am grateful for your time, your company and your wonderful hospitality and care. We had a wonderful few days together and it is amazing how quickly we bonded. It was an honour for me to be part of your lives no matter how short. I remain forever grateful to have met you both, Abrazo.