The deaf owners of “Monkey” in Dosquebradas (near Pereira)

It was a lovely long morning in Pereira, I enjoyed visiting the Termales spa far high up in the mountains via Santa Rosa. The scenery of jungle forests makes you feel special as you chill out in the thermal pools. I order a coffee, I look at the view again and again. Just amazing really.

The afternoon was spent with a charity that focuses on supporting poor and disadvantaged deaf families. This charity seems to be totally led by hearing people, and its leaders seem to have a strong affinity for signed singing and effectively telling people that it’s “integration” at its best.

I was slightly alarmed at the constant “copy me” requests by the hearing leaders, who I saw telling deaf people in the audience to stop talking and “copy me”!! It was pretty worrying at times, the level of disempowerment and yet later on I could also appreciate the strong passion of the hearing leader (who is also an interpreter) ; he is constantly asked by financially poor deaf people for help.

After the Xmas carols, I watched as the whole group of deaf parents and numerous hearing children poured and crowded themselves into a local bus to a nearby community centre. There, everyone sat in a large circle and watched eagerly as their hearing children took in turns to (orally) sing songs into the DJ system, encouraged and led by hearing leaders. I did not see once, the involvement of deaf people in the leadership of this whole event – it really did strike to me as unfortunate and disempowering.

After returning to my kind host’s home for a nap, Jhonal and I later woke up and got ready to head on to a house party. But I was very peckish and asked if we could grab some quick food en route. Jhonal thought for a while on options – pizza, empanadas, burgers, sushi, etc. There are just numerous options for food in every place/street in Colombia! Jhonal’s face then suddenly broke into a huge smile as he remembered a new nice place, owned by a deaf couple. I agreed eagerly, it would be lovely to see this place as I have seen other places in Quito (Inclusiva) and San Francisco (Mozzeria).

We walked down the colourful streets of Dosquebradas, which used to be part of Pereira until its economy improved enough to be independent. I really like Dosquebradas, the streets are clean and many pavements are smooth without bumps! (see previous blog posts for moans about South American pavements being so uneven with tree roots everywhere!). Xmas lights are everywhere, just as in all of Colombia. Really big illuminations and so much flashing lights enough to produce epileptic fits everywhere. We grab a taxi.

The taxi drops us off at this side street, there are people hanging around, drinking away in Xmas spirits. Jhonal points to the “café” and I immediately realise it’s a kind of take-away shop, with a huge counter at the front and big illuminous coloured posters that tell you what’s on offer and what price (e.g. hamburguesas and arepa) . I walk in with Jhonal and there you are, the owners of this small business that has only been opened for 9months.

Monis and Darwin, such a sweet couple and so eager to grow the business but with a slow and stable pace (Theresa May’s totally different!).

At first Monis, you greet Jhonal warmly but totally orally – you speak away knowing that Jhonal is hearing but forgetting that he is a sign language interpreter, totally fluent in sign language and that I am here! I can’t understand a word you are saying! It’s bad enough that you’re speaking in Spanish, but I want to be included. You continue talking with Jhonal and he replies in sign language. After a few minutes I give up and ask you quite firmly to please sign. You are rather astonished, you thought I was also an interpreter 🙂 We laugh in embarrassment and get friendly.

Darwin, you always wear this mask out of hygiene needs whilst cooking. You have worn it so long that even when you are not cooking you are still wearing it, you even sign to us whilst still wearing it! It is quite alarming to realise you spend every working day doing two jobs; you go to a sewing factory each morning and mainly focus on manufacturing jeans, and then you get back home around 530pm, and have a nap for an hour before setting up to be a chef all night. You don’t even seem fed up!

I later learn that for both of you this is your second relationship. Monis, you have 2 boys but your previous (hearing) husband has full custody. The arrangements only allow you to see your boys one Saturday a month and only for a few hours. It is sad and yet you have become stoic, very tired of the emotional rollercoaster you have been on. The boys are easily manipulated by the paternal side of the family which has given you more than enough heartache over the last few years.

As Jhonal and I settle and wait for our order, a stream of deaf customers drop by and greet us all but also order foods too. They seem to come, order and then go and return later for their foods. I later realise they are having a drink on the street nearby, but also that a few of them live so close by that they go home. Allow me to describe a few of them here:

A tall deaf guy comes in, he is so friendly, talks to me about life in Pereira but also about deaf people’s lives too.

A young deaf lad probably 18/19yr pops in, Jhonal used to interpret for him at college for a while. He tells me he didn’t know sign language until a couple years ago, and you can see his indignation, his disappointment that he never had language till so late.  He is so keen to have friendships with everyone here.

A deaf guy is holding a motorbike helmet, and whilst he greets me its somewhat “delayed”, I don’t understand his delay for a bit and then suddenly realise he has Usher’s Syndrome. Immediately I ask about how he rides a motorbike. His friends tell me that he is a good rider but is definitely taking a risk. In Colombia you can pay for a doctor to amend your medical records and hence allow you to continue to ride your bike especially to get to work. He tells me he just cannot afford to not work. There is no good benefits system to support him otherwise. I am still gawping – how can you ride a motorbike in this busy city with Usher’s Syndrome?!!

A young lady greets me, chats about her friend in Europe and asks me if I know her. Sometimes I think Colombian people think Europe is the size of Colombia! I tell her I don’t, we get talking about other things. She tells me she’s from Cali, another city and how much she loves living in Pereira. Her boyfriend brought her here after some romance. Later her boyfriend arrives exactly at the same time as her kebab and chips is served, I am rather impressed at the coincidence, only to realise he was drinking up the road and she had waved to him when Darwin was serving!

A deaf young man with very rough skinned hands arrives, he had bumped into me earlier today at the Xmas event. He is pleased to see us again and we talk a bit. He tells me he is working for at least two months on sorting out books from the Government for poor families, putting them into bags and delivering them to families. He has no idea what work is in store for him when this work finishes. Its typical Colombian employment for deaf people with little education; they get a bit of work here and there, nothing permanent.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Arepa dish – arepa is a kind of bread base made from Maize flour – gorgeous and more healthy than normal bread I think/hope! I loved how quail eggs were added to my burger, and also I notice how they are added to virtually every dish you (Darwin) create tonight, with a cocktail stick added to keep the egg in place. I realise later from you that quail eggs are cheaper than chicken eggs in Colombia.

There are a range of sauces on offer, but my favourite one is the ketchup and mayonnaise mixed. Its pink – kids and people do it all the time in the UK, they physically mix both together on the plate, whereas in Colombia it’s a proper sauce!

Monis, you give me the bill and I give you a generous tip, I just want Monkey to thrive and grow. You are rather startled but pleased evidently. You then return from the kitchen with a huge glass of sweet wine. Its lovely to have and I wanted to keep the glass – such a huge one!

I’m rather excited about plans ahead for Monkey, you both tell me the challenges you have had to date and the growth in just 9 months. I liken this growth to a baby – from foetus to baby! Monis, you agree that a logo and sign is needed but it costs money. You show me on your phone a draft image created by your cousin, I like it! I don’t totally agree with there being nothing about deaf or inclusion in the proposed signage but its your dream! You explain its called Monkey because you think Darwin looks like a monkey! Darwin willingly agrees and puts his face next to the logo to show how much of a monkey he looks like!!! ( searched for emoticon monkey unsuccessfully sorry)

It’s a brilliant evening for me at Monkey, a privilege.  Its also fabulous to see how everything is done behind the counter because that’s where the dinner table is perched. I like seeing how precise you are Monis, writing every single order and using a huge calculator for the sums.

I realise there are no healthy food options on offer, but it’s the same almost everywhere in Colombia in my view!

The young lady’s boyfriend returns with Jhonal after disappearing a while, he is holding a Colombian cigar and offers me a puff. I politely decline, they laugh at my “English-ness”!!

Jhonal and I then finally head off with lots of affectionate “cuidate” (take care) hugs with everyone.  What was planned to be a quick half hour eat turned into 3 hours!

We grab a taxi nearby and arrive at this amazing villa owned by a DJ. There are music instruments all over and the DJ is playing some really intriguing music. We stay till 4am.

I absolutely love how travels can be so spontaneous and how I meet people like you Monis and Darwin. I wake up the next morning, we are Facebook friends since last night, and you have already liked 1000 photos :):)

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