This could easily sound like a rant, it isn’t. I am writing to you all, you Peruvian guides who have met me over the past few weeks. I address you all as uno, when of course there have been several of you. The similarities in the difficulties I have encountered makes me feel comfortable to write this blog post addressing you as a homogeneous group. I know I shouldn’t, for I get so miffed when deaf people are referred to being the same as one another. However this is a lot less political I hope.
I approach you guys on arriving to get on the bus or to walk with the group wherever we are going. I tap you physically, I feel that this is the best way to grab your attention given that there’s about 20-50 of us each time. I then point to my ears and say “me sordo” and usually you will acknowledge this and then either a) get totally distracted by other members of the group or b) reassure me immediately that you know what I have said. Now most readers would think it’s the B’s who make my trip pleasant. Unfortunately its not that straight forward.
The A’s I find myself torn between either becoming more assertive, approaching you guys more than twice to make it really clear that you have a deaf member in your group and that no information will come through unless I can easily lipread you or you kindly share/write notes. Or I just become passive and hope that a better opportunity will come our way later on with less confusion once everyone is settled. It’s a hard one.
The B’s usually leave me with a glimmer of hope, I then sit in the coach or hang about until we set off. Ten minutes into the journey this is what usually happens….[Thump-thump-thump]. You bang on your microphone to check its working and get people’s attention, and then you start talking.
It took me a while but I soon realised that you all start talking in Spanish, and then you repeat the whole thing again in English. I work this out through some smart detective lipreading work which is pretty challenging; you have a big flipping microphone in front of your lips!! After you have talked a fair bit, I then wonder optimistically if you will come over and tell me what I have missed. I can safely say that only one of you did this in the few weeks I have been here. But this one person became forgetful and less dependent as the day went on.
The B’s also remind me of my hearing college and university peers. We would start with some good banter, some friendliness, and then within a few weeks it would just downgrade into greetings, and then later the simple gesture, then patronising smiles. The B’s disappoint me enormously as the day goes on; I become rather forgotten and I find myself just giving up trying to focus on what you are saying, just wandering off on my own, feeling like I will enjoy sightseeing rather than trying to understand you.
Hey A’s and B’s – take note that sunglasses are a big no-no. We read expressions desperately when lipreading or conversing in sign language.
I have tried a few tactics over the past few weeks. One thing that seems to work for at least part of the day is when I have pre-typed a message on my phone and show it to you:
“As my experience with other guides, please either tell me directly information by writing or speaking slowly. It is important you understand that I only understand parts of what guides say. I never know when you are speaking Spanish or English. Also when speaking if the sun is behind you it is impossible to see your lips. Any use of gestures is brilliantly appreciated”
Another is to stay near you and talk directly with you whilst everyone is walking. I find some of you more receptive this way as if it’s a “mini” deaf awareness course.
The Peruvian guide typically uses hand gestures, just as do Latinos across the world in my experience. One expects it to be relatively easy to understand what you are saying, but you don’t half go on(!) You talk at length about some rocks here and there and you make reference to the Inca, and you move your hands enthusiastically, not forgetting you are either talking in Spanish or English, and by the time I’ve worked out which language you are using, I’ve kind of given up!
One very common thing amongst you all, is the overkeenness to tell me how long we have in a place. You all use the singular hand to demonstrate multiples of 5, flashing your hand 12 times to indicate an hour! This is pretty painful, especially with other hearing tourists watching us! I have taught many of you the quick way to give amounts of time, e.g. clock-round-once = one hour, half face = 30mins etc. I like how you guys love learning these simple signs. But it contradicts with the disappointment as you generally forget my needs and continue as if I am not there.
A huge frustration is when you start motivating the group, getting everyone to cheer when reading out which countries are present in the group. I feel like I’m on sharp alert for when you read out “UK”! There are also those awkward parts when you guys ask the group members for any questions and answer them all. There’s no way I can expect you to repeat what they ask.
I must remember that this is Peru, disability awareness has a long way to go. In the USA when my good friend and I visited Hearst Castle he booked a sign language interpreter in advance when making the web booking and this was provided. Similarly when we visited Alcatraz there were two very enthusiastic interpreters who amused us all few hours!
I just wish it was easier, and less personal. Often when we feel let down by someone we are reminded that nothing intentional was done during the apologies. However this is about ignorance and forgetfulness. And when you are the only deaf person in the group there are times when you find yourself staring at the guide thinking what did I do?
I feel uncomfortable to say I have not tipped any of you once. I would if you gave me that extra consideration, that involvement and that kindness. Maybe I will find a charity or organisation in Peru that focuses on deaf awareness and give them the money you guys would have received in tips?
Tomorrow I set off to Machu Pichu but with a difference. I’ve sorted it all myself. No guides. I’ve read some information about the place. I’ve booked the train directly. I’ve sorted the pass permit. I am somewhat relieved to be doing this without you guides! I am even walking to the train station solo! I just hope it works out fine, gulp!
(On a positive note maybe this blog post will encourage the tourism industry wider than Peru to think about this issue and work with Deaf people to find solutions)
Post-blog note: I certainly did it solo!