It has been almost three weeks, I haven’t met anyone deaf and I have certainly experienced deafsickness and some homesickness too. I have travelled around Peru and a friend told me that you live and work in Agua Calientes, which is the town just before the Machu Picchu entrance. She gave me your number a few months ago.
Its been a lovely train journey from Ollantaytambo, where I arrived yesterday and saw the temple before an early night ready for today’s adventure to Machu Picchu. The train was so classic an experience with ceiling windows that allowed us all to see as much nature as possible all the way to Agua Calientes. There is table service by smart Peruvians all the way with tea/coffee and cake. The trio sat with me at my table were all from Ontario, kind people and despite nice introductions and a little conversation, we soon had nothing more to say and stared into the amazing nature views, the river, the creeks, the huge mountains and some really cute tunnels.
Arriving into Agua Calientes, I immediately realise it’s a very small town and that it should be easy to find the hotel that you work at. I ask around and one of the many hotel staff at the station – who were waiting to pick up passenger luggage to allow passengers to go straight to Machu Picchu – helped guide me to your hotel. I ask for “Roberto” and they immediately get it as both you and I are deaf and use sign language.
Whilst waiting for you, I can see that this hotel is quite a posh one, inundated with Western visitors and various items of luggage. There’s a nice orangey-white coloured theme across the hotel and whilst I’d never pick this pair of colours, the identity of the hotel is clearly branded. I wondered quietly how the dynamics work between you and the numerous staff members who work here.
You eventually arrive and you have this knowingly-expression for we had texted a few times in the past couple of days. You immediately make it clear you have to work till 3pm and I can gather that you feel a little embarrassed to be in the lobby area, dressed as you are. We quickly agree to meet later and you give me a few tips on getting to Machu Picchu. You tell me twice to make sure my bus ticket is half price as per deaf people’s rates in Peru. Lastly, you point me in the direction of the ticket office and we quickly say bye.
The day passes quickly for me as I venture Machu Picchu and take hundreds of photos of such beauty. I hike down from the top, step after step for over an hour, really hard! But not as hard as for those who opt to do the 4-day trek over the Andes admittedly.
After I get back and have an pineapple juice, I then text you to say I am ready and to ask if you are. There’s no reply for a while and I suspect you are engaged with some work still. I walk over to take advantage of your hotel lobby wifi access. I bump into you by chance and you confirm you are just going to have a quick shower and then join me.
As you return you see me face-timing with my parents in sign language and it is clear that you are surprised to have met someone with deaf parents. My parents greet you warmly, they know how I can miss deaf friends and sign language. We rapidly end the video-chat and walk over to a pizza place. There’s only about 90mins till I have to get my train back.
As I should, I tell you that dinner will be on me and that I was truly grateful fo your time. I start to look ahead to our meal and think what we would chat about. I quite quickly realise that you have a lot of knowledge about the Incas and that you have met some international deaf visitors in the 7months you have worked here.
You were born in Cusco but the family have since moved to Lima. You are a member of the deaf community in Cusco, and it is clear you miss them badly. I learn that your employment at the hotel comes from a disability initiative whereby disabled people are given positive support to getting jobs in the hotel industry. You explain that you have a day off every six days and that you always go up to Cusco to meet deaf friends.
You tell me about your job, you mainly work in the laundry department in very hot conditions. You can request to do something else only if you have some physical pains. It is a busy department to work in. And whilst there are over 150 staff at the hotel, yo are the only deaf person.
It was last year that your bosses told you that you had to work in Aqua Callientas and such rotation happens every year. You tell me that you reluctantly accepted this as being part of the hotel industry. The degree of reluctance is easily grasped as you move your index finger downwards across your chin alongside the facial expression of reluctance. This is because there are no deaf people who live in Aqua Calientes, no access, no subtitled films, no social gatherings, nothing. You tend to work 7-3 every day and then spend evenings relaxing, being quiet and rather disengaged.
You sometimes fill your evenings by hunting deaf international visitors. There have been Belgians, Chinese, Japanese and Americans recently. You find them by hovering around the town and introducing yourself when you do. You mention sometimes helping guide deaf international visitors further which results in tips for you. I quickly hope that you are not expecting a tip from me, dinner should suffice.
I learn that you have only been to Brazil and that you travelled there by 3nights on the coach. This was to play football against their national deaf team. You didn’t win the match but you loved the visit. I quietly think to myself that I am so lucky to have seen so much of the world. We start talking about other countries, especially the ones I am going to see over the next few months. Falta is a sign you use (thumb moves downwards on the chin) I struggle to understand this word/sign and we both try to decipher the meaning but it doesn’t work. Google translate to the rescue, lack was the English translation. I got it, you falta these countries; you haven’t been to them.
Although I have missed signing and being with deaf people, somehow I recognise that this chance interaction hasn’t hit the notch I was hoping for, none of the natural laughter I have, no sarcasm nor wit. Not every deaf person is the same and I have to recognise that your own knowledge and experiences are different to mine.
I also note how you have more or less accepted that there is 5months to go in this role before you return to Cusco finally and be in more contact with deaf people. And here I was, arriving Aqua Calientes after only 2 weeks of no sign language, dying to converse in sign language again. Its a lot worse for you I reckon. Maybe this was why I met you, some kind of spiritual message to tell me to knuckle up and to enjoy the experience of travelling South America.
You kindly escort me back to the train station, it’s so beautiful; a bit like a garden! I get my ticket stamped and time moves quickly – I catch my train back.