It has been two long days for me in Quito, I arrived from Buenos Aires feeling rather intrigued. I had considered dropping Ecuador but my friends encouraged me to keep it in my itinerary, to see as much as I can before continuing to Colombia over the border.
For me, the greatest surprise in arriving into Quito was to realise its not very warm! Its pretty cold, and I am told by my hostel owner that its actually winter time. I hadn’t expected that at all. I had given away all of my winter llama-wool stuff to deaf friends in Argentina, including my padded coat. I was pretty down when I opened the bloody BBC weather app to be told it would be showery and cloudy every day here. The reason I say “bloody” is that the BBC weather app seems to continually get it wrong for me. I should just delete this app, it depresses me for no reason.
However, as I get around Quito, visiting the Middle of the World, the Pichincha Volcano, the Bell Towers, the sun continues to shine with me and provides me with some really lovely photos. Sure it is chilly, and there are times when the clouds thicken, but nothing to the extent of the BBC weather app forecast!
I was introduced to you, Martha, via a friend of a friend in Buenos Aires. We were supposed to meet on my first night but you had to pull out unexpectedly due to childcare. You suggested meeting the following night and I agreed. Our exchange of texts and video clips was pretty difficult admittedly, with google translate not always giving us the best clarity. We finally got there in the end! La Ronda is a curved road, famous for bohemia, music, food, art. We met outside the La Ronda hotel, I had to advise you my phone would only work with wifi so none of this typical last minute change that many friends in South America have done!
When you arrive with your daughter, it is just so sweet. We greet each other with a kiss as they do in many parts of South America, and I immediately want to communicate with your daughter. She comes across as a good signer, I had assumed she was hearing. It wasn’t until about 10mins later that I had to ask you if she was deaf as there were certain things I noticed about her, her eye gaze, her willingness to seek out visual information. You confirmed she was deaf.
We walk a little to a bus stop to meet your husband. Bus stops in Quito as well as in numerous other parts of South America exist on a raised platform often on the side or middle of a busy road. Here people queue up and walk straight into the bus when it arrives; there is no upward climb onto the bus, nor do wheelchair users need to wait for the bus to lower (there are ramps to the platform on both sides) I find this quite brilliant, although it is hard to explain in words. The 53 bus in Woolwich comes to mind where people despairingly climb up to enter with miserable facial expressions!
Carlos arrived with such a gentle manner. He has these amazing eyes and this aura of confidence spurts out of his charisma. He kissed you and then his daughter and then greets me. He asks me questions in such a friendly and intelligent way. We stay on the bus platform yapping away like deaf people do everywhere in this world! A guy comes by and stares at you and your husband very closely. I thought this was pretty worrying but it turns out he’s a deaf friend of yours, having a laugh. There’s the greeting again, kiss to each of you from him. He stays a while then makes his way. After more chats, Carlos finally asks the obvious question – what do we wanna do!? I mean we can’t stay on the bus platform!!!
The town is packed with people, all dressed in warm coats and looking excited – for it is the first night of 3 days celebrating Ecuador’s independence. There are concerts and bands in every plaza you can see. There are numerous street sellers, some giving away free hot toddies, others some disgusting ice cream. I should explain this. In Ecuador they sell ice creams in two types; one as per “normal” and the other as being whipped cream that looks like ice cream but is not cold at all. I bought the latter by mistake the night before, was up half the night feeling queasy from the excess sugar and egg mix!
We agree to look for somewhere to eat and chat more. We end up in a lovely bistro where there are a few people drinking themselves merry and singing into a Karaoke machine. Angelica, your daughter, is bewildered looking at these people. We order our food and get talking more.
It becomes clear to me that you and your husband are both very smart although living in Ecuador for deaf people is hard at times. Your husband works supporting deaf people into employment. You are a full time mother and will start a Social Sciences degree in February.
It was astonishing to learn that you both pay for your daughter’s sign language interpreter at school. Your daughter was not thriving at the declining deaf school. Your husband has very high expectations of education and decided to move her into mainstream school but because this is your decision, you have to pay for her access to communication needs. I find this deplorable. It is not your fault that the deaf school is not so good, but for you to have to pay for your daughter to have an interpreter all day every day is a huge chunk out of your salary.
We talk about your family’s origins (Tulcan), and being black (“Afro” in your words) in Ecuador. We also talk about how your family are all-deaf and all-black, something that I have never met in my life. You both also acknowledge this, you have never met another family where they are all black and deaf. You would really like to, and I can understand this as I have met and warmly related to Jewish deaf families out there. We agree that I would ask in the UK via social media.
As our introductory meal goes on, we learn a lot about each other and our country differences. Angelica watches us sometimes and then focuses on the karaoke singing people. I tell Angelica about my family and show her photos of my nephews and nieces. We agree to make a video to say hello to my youngest niece and ask a few simple questions. Angelica is so excited in doing this and she checks the video and asks to do it again twice. She wants it to be perfect. I promise her that my niece will reply when she wakes up (5 hour difference!).
We settle the bill and head off to wander around town and take in some of the night sights of the celebrations happening. At each concert it is clear how much people love dancing in this country. You guys also start dancing, feeling each rhythm. I try to dance along but I know how bad my dancing is!
We look at different famous buildings at night time, illuminated. There is one big beautiful church where Angelica immediately tells me a story about this place. She gestures a person moving his head from one side to another. Both of you nod in pride and approval. I had to admit I didn’t understand. Your husband then tells me of a famous story where a thief had broken into church and climbed over the statue of Jesus. Whilst doing this, Jesus woke up and asked him where he was going. He was lost for words, and Jesus moved his head from one side to the other. I find your visual demonstration of this story lovely! I started to wonder if you guys were religious and ask you openly. You explain that whilst much of South America is Catholic and your families have some religious commitment, since getting married neither of you have bothered with religion especially with no access via sign language. I share my experiences of Jewish religion, there is a lot of empathy between us on the subject of religion.
We walk on to a lovely street where there are some Xmas illuminations and some clown jugglers. Angelica looks happy and sits to watch some of the juggle acts whilst I continue to chat endlessly with you and your husband.
Your husband tells me about a deaf visitor from Cameroon, who lives in USA and is a professor at Gallaudet University. When he visited Quito, he went to see your husband teaching sign language. Both of them greeted each other very warmly, it was an absolute honour for your husband to meet a professional who was both deaf and black. I could see how much it meant to him as he explained the event. Both of them continue to correspond and hope to meet again.
I could see Angelica starting to look tired and reassured you that I would be fine to go back to my b and b, and that we would meet again two days later.
We all hug and say “Buenos Noches”. As with every country, the sign is different for this lovely phrase, and I go to my accommodation trying to remember how it is signed in Lengua de Señas de Ecuador (LSEC).