The clouds keep building up and I just know after walking about 20mins that I wish I had brought my umbrella with me, or a jacket. My whatapp Morelia group with a few deaf friends of deaf friends in Mexico has been filling up with messages in Spanish for the past hour and it is somewhat clear, despite my limited understanding as well as google translate not being so effective, in addition to my android (temporary old phone) screen being so difficult to read in daylight, that I’m not going to be meeting a few deaf people after all. One of the excuses was admirable; having to finish a set of false teeth for an important American tourist(!). Nevertheless a couple of them recommended going to this “Deaf Cat Café” called Gatosordo. I hesitate a while but decide to just go, see what this café is about and see what will come my way.
As I arrive at the café after being lost a few times, it is clear I have found a café that ticks all the boxes for me. A good range of books, board games, dark red and wooden coloured furniture present wonderful deco, and further, there’s a strong aura of good coffee. Further, it is a deaf café, with sign language featured in different art forms, including visual images of the LSM (Legueje de Senas Mexican) alphabet across the room.
I locate the main counter and there you are, a young-ish lad of maybe 24/25yr old, clearly deaf and rather thin. You are wearing glasses and you have quite a nice haircut. You look at me as if I am the 20th deaf person to have visited this café in the two years since it opened, and you appear courteous, behaving as a professional member of the staff. I introduce myself and tell you I am from England (cue the international sign for policeman helmet, don’t ask!). You introduce yourself as Manu, and you tell me that you are working here as well as studying at college. You sometimes glance at this lady who is sat on a table speaking away with her boyfriend, or at least I think he is. It then becomes clear she is your boss, a friendly one too. I try to explain to her about being from England and how there is a “Deaf Cat” café in Rochester, Kent. She hasn’t a clue. I try to open up a map on my phone, I search google for images, but somehow it doesn’t register with her.
But Manu, you totally got it. You look impressed in a way. You come to me and bring my attention to look at a picture – a friend of mine had been to this café a few years ago and left a picture of his wrestling alter-ego image on the wall. I was quite delighted to see this, although realise I am definitely not the first deaf from the UK to have visited, drat. You then almost immediately go back behind the counter and start some dishes. Manu, you appear to be a kind of a “take one step forward and two steps back” guy? I am rather unsure if we are allowed to have a chat, you seem nervous and its almost as if you have been told to not bother me too much. Or maybe its me, being an older deaf guy with bleached blonde hair and that overall positive friendliness I seem to channel out?
I order a strong black americano and a crepe with ham and cheese. As you set about cooking and making my coffee, I start to try and ask you questions about deaf people in Morelia and whether this café belongs to the deaf community. It is hard to ask you these questions, its almost like you want to tell me more but feel you must remain behind the counter.
I drink my coffee and wonder more about you. I wonder if you are being exploited or whether this job is a great god-send for you? Is this lady someone who is trying to genuinely empower deaf people like you by giving you a job, or are you being paid peanuts? I wonder if you even like this work and if its helping you develop wider skills? You seem so nervous about wanting to make sure everything is clean and every task finished. I also wonder if there are other deaf people who work at this café.
Later on after you serve my coffee, I show you my phone messages from the busy whatapp group, and ask if you know any of these deaf people. You confirm you do. The weather has turned incredibly black and the rain is just almost here. I ask you to kindly text in Spanish to explain to Cruz, another deaf person, by text that I would be going home as it was getting late and wet and that he was clearly not going to get here in time. You type away and I’m grateful.
The owner kindly offers me a lift back to my place given the awful rain and my lacking anything to cover myself with. Its really sweet, I accept and we set out to the car with you closing the cafe windows etc, only to then suddenly be told by the lady that the deaf group members of the whatapp group have just texted her begging to keep the café open a little longer and for me to wait for them to arrive.
I smiled to myself, fate was happening my way. At her insistence, I re-entered the café with her. We quickly explain what was happening. You stayed with us and then the deaf people of Morelia arrived. I could see you coming out of your shell-like behaviour almost as soon as they arrived, as if the increase in deaf people bolstered your confidence. You start asking me questions whilst they arrived and greeted me. You seem disappointed to realise I’m leaving Morelia in the morning. You give the indication that we haven’t finished conversing. The friends offer to take me out for dinner and I agree, but you decline, putting your studies ahead of your evening.
Morelia is such a beautiful place with lots of historical architecture and so much to admire. There are hidden streets everywhere. There are churches and a big cathedral. Brilliant green trees and plants stand in contrast with the cream and colours of each building. I dream of sitting down with an easel and paintbrush and to just paint different parts of this amazing place. However to include being deaf and living in Morelia, I’d love to feature you in this painting. Would I use some abstract image to demonstrate this consistent ambiguity about you, or would I use something definite? As you head off to your studies with some reluctance in your shoulders, you turn to me and wave again, and I wished you well in your studies.