2019 is almost here – my own reflections about poverty

8D645E02-263A-4BA8-A45C-A59661A1E974As we all settle into the new year and some of us share our reflections, here’s mine. I have worked on this blog post for quite a while, dithering whether its okay and made sure this blog post remains that of my own thoughts. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I write, I also don’t expect this blog post to change things.

As I type, I have been travelling Latin America for almost 6months. I am typing on a portable keyboard with my iPad that I purchased in Mexico after my old one broke. I was rather torn in deciding what to do when my old mini iPad just would not charge, and after some hesitation I headed to the Mac store in Puerto Vallarta and looked at a range of models before deciding to buy a new one. It was about £375 in total plus the new blue plastic cover too. I bought the portable keyboard earlier on in Los Angeles.

To be able to purchase these, I am a lucky guy. I was able to use my savings from selling my car and my Apple Mac, also from a long time saving up too. I don’t believe I realised just how lucky I was until later in my travels.

Poverty frightens and saddens me. Of course, I have come across poverty before especially when working in charities and communities. There are many definitions of poverty that will lead to how a country, a government or a person judges the extent of being poor. But poverty in countries where there is little or no welfare benefits sickens me. It leaves such a mess, it leads people into desperation, crime, poor self esteem and devastation. Prostitution too. It also leads people who are not in poverty into “privileged/power positions” e.g. acts of grooming, bribery, paying people to do things that they don’t really want to do.

On my journey I have seen/experienced the following:

– A young lady in Armenia with torn clothes, little or no teeth, no footwear, running after me as I was waiting for a taxi to take me to the bus terminal. She was spouting something in Spanish, looking at me angrily, wanting money badly and almost about to tug my manual rucksack.

– About 20 tents on a disused part of a highway, filled with Venezuelans who had run away from persecution into Pasto. With no benefits, no support they have just had to live this way and try their best to get minimal income from selling trivial things. The “campsite” lacks hygiene, there is nowhere safe. Kids are running around and the adults look extremely tired and frustrated at their misfortune. What did they ever do to deserve this?

– Incredibly tired looking people walking around in Medellin with huge bags collecting whatever waste they can find. There is a financial incentive depending on how much plastic etc has been collected, but it is so minimal.

– In every country I have been in, I have seen a number of people sleeping on the streets, looking so worn out and in bad health. I have seen people with huge open scabs on their bodies, pouring water on their wounds. It is beyond belief.

– Christmas Day in Medellin, walking on the street towards a restaurant, I saw several families just lying on the streets, so tired and evidently hungry. They looked disillusioned, they cannot understand the injustice in this world.

– In Arequipa, Peru – a boy of about 5-7yr old, looking so depleted and not at all enlightened when I gave him my left over food in a box from a Mexican restaurant – they had given me too much. It is too easy to assume they want food, or to think its better to give food, when it can be much more that they want; a home, a bath, a family, an education.

– Eating lunch in a park in Quito, a nice guy sat on my table and flirted with me. He turned out to be living on the street and wanted me to pay him to have some fun. He didn’t even look scared, it was a job to him. Of course I said no. This was not an isolated example, it has happened so many times, in bars, in bus stations etc.

– I was asked in a large hyper-supermarket with Mexican friends, to contribute a large amount of money towards a new tumble drier to help them. I had to decline after having already been very generous with food and drinks.

– Stayed in family homes where showers simply do not work; low electricity means
low lightning, no hot water. No toilet seats. No bathroom door, just a pinned shower curtain. No washing machine, everything hand-washed. No wifi or very slow speed.

– Saw a child sunbathing with his family, making a sandcastle and drinking a can of coke, totally ignoring a similar aged child next to him, begging for money and looking worse for wear.

– Met women and men approximately aged 16-30yr who have a “rich uncle” in the Western world, paying for their needs in return for sexual demands. Prostitution is disguised here both for the predator and prey.

– Saw so many people attempting to sell minor items e.g. pens, rulers, plastic toys, mints on the bus and train. They stand up for about 5mins talking loudly about their item and then they pass one to each person, walking to the end of the bus/carriage and then return to either pick them up or receive money. This is obviously all in Spanish but the passion and energy in them to try and sell is strong.

– I was asked for £20 by a friend just to help him get by.

I have found myself in the following situations/dilemmas:

– Having to restrain myself after one friend assumed I was happy to pay the bill for the group we were eating with.

– Being so unsure about buying my host family a slap up meal when they probably needed the money rather.

– Spending £100 for 5 nights in Medellin thinking it was a good deal and then seeing my friends’ faces in alarm as if I’d spent a fortune.

– Wanting to get away from my deaf hosts to be able to go shopping without feeling guilty in front of them. To buy a branded ice cream, a top-notch meal rather than the cheaper version.

– Insisting on paying the food/drink bill when my host or friends want to pay – I just know they cannot afford it.

– Agreeing with my Ecuadorian friends after I paid for dinner, that they could buy coffee afterwards in return. But then to realise they only bought me a coffee, saying they were too full up. I sensed they wanted to spend as minimal as possible.

– Collecting some of my worn out or no longer needed clothes together and giving it to poor people on the streets, yet knowing they would much rather money.

– Buying street food from poor people and realising I only had large notes, and them trying their best to find change. It was so embarrassing.

– Really wanting to go to a bar for drinks and then realising my friends just can’t afford it hence buying from supermarket and drinking in the streets.

– Looking for a café that sells proper coffee whilst passing poor people for whom the price for proper or even normal coffee could do so much for them

– Wanting to scream at a “Westerner”for trying to haggle a price far too low

– Seeing large numbers of local “comfortable” families having meals outside restaurants whilst poor people are around staring hungrily.

– Saying no to buying another bottle of rum in Bolivia, when I had bought the first one for a birthday party, and then they all collected money themselves to buy the second one. I was very tired but with reflection it was not expensive and I could have saved them money.

– Always trying to not spend more than £5 on dinner as it just feels so wrong to spend more relatively.

– Spending £3 on 2 laundry loads by hotel reception and knowing my local friend thinks its way too expensive.

– Spending £90 to do the world’s most dangerous road bicycle ride in Bolivia – such a brilliant experience but the money could have done so much for my Bolivian host family.

Each day of my travels I have battled with my frustrations. I have tried to raise £1200 for Starly to reunite with his parents but only managed £470. I am truly grateful to all who donated though and totally understand not everyone can donate every time someone raises money.

I think by the time I go home in March I will have spent approx £14k in 7-months (flights included). I could have ended my travels much earlier and given the rest to the poor. Sadly in Latin America and other parts of the world there is too much corruption to know what best to do to support poverty issues. Of course there’s Fairtrade and Oxfam etc, but these have been around for years. We need more solutions but the issues seem prevalent.

For deaf people in poverty, I do not know how sign language recognition has supported them, if any. In Colombia, sign language was recognised in 1996 and yet so many are unemployed and struggling. The same goes for Chile and Argentina. In the UK, British Sign Language is still not legally protected and recognised yet we have so much access etc (see my previous blog re employment in Chile for deaf people). I think poverty overrides the positive benefits from sign language recognition, its just too powerful and dominant a barrier itself.

But what are we meant to do? Do we walk past, ignore, say sorry? Do we stop buying privileged things such as iPads and portable keyboards? I could avoid paying for taxis, avoid buying coffee in nice cafes, and give the money to local poor people. But then what about supporting local employment? People are trying to make a living to get out of poverty.

Is the thought “Why can’t this government help them? “ a convenient excuse not to give?

But then giving money would encourage greater begging?

Each time I explain to new deaf friends in Latin America that my travels are within a limited budget and that I have saved hard etc, I wonder what they really think. Do they, as they say, admire me for working so hard and saving money and taking this plunge? Do they think its so unfair? Some of them have told me in reflective discussions that by travelling I am spreading the word, making their challenges and unfairness known to my friends and family.

It was UN Human Rights day on December 10th – I don’t know if I am alone in my thinking, but I have no idea what it means? Its just not working? There is so much poverty and war related poverty. How can we say “Happy UN Human Rights day” when we know of these terrible things?

As we head into 2019 with our own individual thoughts and reflections about what we have done in 2018, and what we want to experience in the new year, I am sure that many of us have our own conscience-related questions that will remain unanswered.

Travelling insofar has been a wonderful privilege and I am grateful for all the support I have received from family, friends in the UK and also friends across Latin America.

Happy New Year to you all.

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 :):)

Johanna, a deaf lady in Pasto

 
(Johanna has read and approved of this blog)

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I had wasted a couple hours this morning going with my Colombian host father into town to see if they could repair my blasted travel luggage. The traffic had been unbelievable, and when you have a bit of a bad back, the multiple stops and halts on the brakes really frustrates you. The handle was doing my head in (see previous blogs) and the bottom part was starting to really badly erode away, worrying me about what happens when it finally splits. We went to this downtown market to a market stall where they seemed to excel in repairing luggage. They examined my luggage, giving sighs of despair and were reluctant to say how much it would cost to repair. The overall message I sensed was to let it go and get a new one. My parents had kindly offered to buy this for Xmas. I gave up and agreed I would look for a new one tomorrow. We hurried back home in order to meet you, Johanna.

You were introduced to me by a mutual friend, and you kindly offered to meet and take me to the wonderful Laguna de la Cocha, about half an hour’s journey away but only if you know where to get these lovely collectivos where people effectively share cabs at the last minute, no pre-bookings necessary.

As I greet you in the lobby of my host family’s casa, it is quite clear to me you are a little nervous. I try and reassure you, coming across as positive and kind as I usually do. I can see how unsure you are about how I will greet you, I kiss you on both cheeks and smile. I then excuse myself to get my bag ready for our trip.
Being a transexual in transition is not easy. I can only imagine it to some extent, but I would not want you or anyone going through the process to be nervous about meeting me. As a gay deaf man I can only try to understand how one has fear, how one is going through such a journey for acceptance but then there is all of the medical side of the transition. I just want you to feel safe and content with my company and hope that I give this to you by being my normal friendly and caring self.

We set off and talk about common things, about Pasto and how religious a town it is. We also talk about my love of coffee and how I really needed a coffee – its Colombia for heaven’s sake. We walk quite a fair bit to arrive this not-so-bad-a-café and have a quick coffee each. We then dash off to a collectivo stand and we are told to wait 5minutes for the next car ride to La Cocha.

We talk and learn more about each other. I tell you about my travels insofar and also what is ahead of me over the next few months before I go home. I am impressed with your international sign fluency and I tell you that you should consider training up to the level of an international sign interpreter. You share with me that the University in Pasto is on strike (again) and that many young people in Pasto are disillusioned with the escalating costs of education and the chaos it means for completing your degree. You are doing some small paid work as an observer of newly trained sign language interpreters, giving feedback for their professional development.

The car speeds ahead all the way to La Cocha, riding pretty quickly across the huge bends from one side of the mountain/volcano to the other. We try to remain seated upright with some difficulty! We talk to each other the whole journey. It is nice to know you more and about Pasto, the first city of Colombia for me to visit.

I am conscious to allow you to raise the subject of being transsexual, rather than me. It is never certain what’s the right thing to do; to raise it or not, but my maturity tells me to let you raise it. And you do. I had pointed to a picture of some elaborate nails painted, you seemed to like this subject and we laugh about different nail styles. You tell me how hard it is for you and how things used to be. I admire your honesty and openness but also how brave you are being.

I learn that you used to identify as a gay young man, and how you fell in love with men only to be rejected again and again with the same reasons; you were too feminine for their liking and that they wanted a masculine guy. You went through a lot, and from lots of consideration you recognised that you were a transexual and decided to come out at 22yr, seeking support from the Health profession as well as the Deaf community and your family. Your parents did struggle initially but quickly turned to support you after your siblings strongly stood up for you. The Deaf community was a different thing, with many unsure how to support you and a mix of reactions across individuals. Those you had grown up with were divided between positive and hostility. There are men who grew up with you who still shake your hand and refuse to kiss you as an identified lady. There are others who have been more positive.

You tell me how you really want to work with deaf children in education but transexuals are banned from doing so in Colombia. I share with you my huge annoyance with this and how things are far more open in the UK, I know of at least 2 deaf transexuals who are working in deaf education and pretty open about it too. You appear amazed to learn about this, positively envious to some extent.
I learn that you are in touch with a few deaf transexuals across South America, but in Colombia you feel you are the only one that is open about it.

You share with me that your Mother and you both pay for your hormone replacement therapy medication, she paying a large part of it. You are still thinking about removal of your penis, it is very difficult a decision and you have two years to think about it.

I positively ask you a few questions out of curiosity. You confirm you always use the female toilets. You also confirm you want to be referred to as she, her.

In our wider conversations about love and men, you repetitively share your deep desire to fall in love and have a boyfriend. It is very difficult you acknowledge, for men to treat you just like a woman, especially whilst transitioning. I also say its difficult, men are rats sometimes 🙂

There is a slight confusion when we are riding in the taxi back. Wearing shorts, you can see some of my hair on my legs are blonde. You say you really wish you had this, which confused me as I thought you were going to no longer have hair on your arms. You explain to me that you mean blonde as my sun-tanned hair had turned much of my leg hair blonde. It makes sense, as it can make hair less obvious on your body.

We later meet a group of deaf friends for coffee in a shopping mall, it is clear to me how this group totally accepts you and treats you like a lady. There are times when you come across as unsure of yourself, times when you give the impression that you want to be ultra feminine but not yet.

You ask me to show you photos of the deaf transexuals I know in the UK and I gladly show those I have from social media. It is really clear to me how important it is for you to meet, know and identify with other deaf transexuals or people going though the experience.

It’s the identity, the shared experience and the numerous questions each person has. It is the same for the rest of the lgbtiqa plus community, although finding each other I would say is much harder for transexuals who are deaf.

(Just in case its helpful for UK readers, have a look at this website for some support http://www.deaflgbtiqa.org.uk)

The deaf family in Quito

 


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.

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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).

The qualified, but unemployed deaf guys in Santiago

Whilst staying with my kind hosts, they needed me to go out whilst they attended a private function. I will admit to wanting to chill out on the sofa after lots of sightseeing, but hey you’re only in Santiago a short while so best to make the most of it. My hosts knew you, Cristobal, and kindly put us in touch a few days ago. We agreed to meet up for the evening. You kindly texted to check if I was okay on the day and to reassure me you would wait for me as I was kind of stuck in some small traffic.

We met up outside the metro station, Santa Lucia. Santiago has a number of must-sees, and I thought I had already been up Santa Lucia, a hill famous for its views of the city. When we met and started walking up, I quickly realised I hadn’t been to this famous landmark! “What was that hill I’d gone up last week?” I thought to myself…. agh! A not-very-famous one, much less height! No wonder I wasn’t inspired on that day!

We enjoyed the views whilst walking uphill over paved slabs and cobbles and dusty pathways. We admired the sunset and saw several people taking photos. I have developed a kind of “ugh-cringe” watching tourists taking photos/selfies. What is it with needing to do a silly pose? Poking your tongue out? Opening your arms hugely wide? Raising this leg or that leg? As soon as the photo is done, the person goes back into normal-mode. Its just stupid! Rant over.

I got to know you and Vicente, your friend, as we walked up. We started with the usual pattern of working out our international sign fluency, our different particular signs, then a bit about my travels insofar and what I am doing in the Americas. I later asked both of you about life in Santiago for you and especially for deaf people. I learned a lot from you both.

In summary:
• Many employers in Chile do not want to employ deaf or disabled people.
• Vicente lost his job most recently, and it was blatant discrimination – hearing colleagues still remain there.
• You haven’t found your first job yet. You paid 280,000 pesos (324 pounds) each month for your University education over 4 years.
• You had to pay for interpreters during your degree, this is means tested.
• Welfare is only 104,000 pesos each month (120 pounds). This gives you literally nothing, especially after transport costs at about 700pesos per hour.
• There is a new law as of April 2017 that dictates that 1% of employees should have a disability, but with 18million Chileans this number is ridiculous.
• There is practically nothing free in Chile for deaf people. No freedom pass or reduced travel. You have to pay for your own audiological equipment. You have to pay for interpreters for any work related meetings. You have to pay for interpreters for University lectures, although this does get means-tested.
• The divide between the rich and poor is very big in Chile compared to the UK; otherwise known as income inequality
• Many people, including your families, just think its best for you to move to another country, e.g. Spain. Its bewildering!

Many deaf people are still living with their parent/s compared to hearing people of a similar age, they just cannot afford it.

Marches have been arranged year after year by the Chilean Deaf Association. I saw the deaf association building, it looks really nice, like a huge house. It was given to deaf people by Pinochet, no rent or payments is needed. However the deaf association is totally run by volunteers. There is no CEO or staff to do the work that is needed to bring about change, it is all voluntary and easily exposed to unfair criticism and malpractice.

Many deaf people have given up on the marches and have started to decline going to the deaf association especially since the advance of mobile phones and social media. Thus to form a critical mass to bring about change politically it is a right struggle.

It was rather difficult for me to even try to imagine how difficult things must be for you. It was the sheer depletion of motivation in your faces that striked me, rather than lack of. You both were evidently smart and keen to digest information. You just wanted to work, to do something productive but you have been turned down so many times it has exhausted you. You also know your deaf friends across Chile are almost all unemployed.

The father in my host family lost his hearing at 1yr, he was brought up orally and heavily educated by his Mother. He had acquired sufficient speech and is one of the lucky deaf people today to be in good employment. This is not to say speech is necessary, but it was interesting to note his advantage compared to you in terms of gaining employment; discrimination.

You both asked me a lot about Brexit. I tried to summarise my understanding and frustrations with Brexit with you both whilst we sat a nearby fountain. Both of you passionately listened as I ranted about Prime Minister May, but also how stupid I thought the whole thing was given the referendum was so closely tied. I tried to convey all of this in international sign, but there was also the need to give context, to help you both understand the complexity at hand. I’m not sure if I gave a good and fair summary but then again when have any of us received anything non-biased about Brexit?!

Given that you weree both unemployed, I didn’t have the heart for us to go to a pricy restaurant. I suggested we hunt a cheap place, you suggested a burger bar near your home that is owned by a deaf man. I was intrigued. I’ve been to other deaf owned restaurants, e.g. Mozzeria in San Francisco. We have also had all the recent hype about Starbuck’s employment of deaf people. So why not!

At Inclusiva, the burger bar I saw that the owner was clearly hard of hearing – although he signed to us. Again, an oral deaf person has employment. Amongst his staff was a female deaf signing waitress who served us and got talking with us about employment. She had more positivity about her, she believed things will improve.

We were served a special menu which didn’t cost the world. It was good to see how Inclusiva shows the world that deaf people can run their own business – I could see the awareness amongst the many hearing customers who came for food. I was impressed with the concept, although I could see that for you Cristobal, it was not so motivating. You wanted to do something with your degree in graphic design. The same for Vicente, who has a degree in computer engineering.

For the solo traveller that is me, meeting you both was a reminder just how lucky deaf people are in the UK. It also reminded me of how fed up I got over the past few years with people wanting more and more, especially when they have so much in the UK. Talking with you and Vincente reminded me of how much I have achieved with thanks to the UK system and how I am in a fortunate position to travel whilst considering my experience, qualifications and thus options for my next career move.

It is hard, really hard for me to know what to suggest for you both. I certainly don’t think everyone should just move to another country, but that’s easy for me to say. I just cannot really understand why such a beautiful country with its large income inequality can allow widespread discrimination and not see the economic and psychological benefits to be gained if deaf people were supported into work.

As we said goodbye, it was hard for me to not feel somewhat guilty in a sense, because I was heading to my next destination. I know you both had no ill-feelings, and I would not say you were jealous at all. You both hugged me goodbye and we agreed to hope to meet again.  I wished you both much luck and you wished me luck too. Adios amigos!

The Venezuelan deaf guy living in Buenos Aires

(Starly has reviewed and agreed to this blog post)

I was having dinner with a friend in Salta and she shared a photo of us on her whatsapp. You contacted her quite quickly, wanting to know if I was her new boyfriend, which resulted in a laugh between you and she explaining to you in sign language via video camera, “No, he is a good man but he is igual to you”. Igual is used frequently in Spanish language, it generally means “the same” and I worked out that you were gay from that dialogue. We smiled a bit and laughed. We acknowledged one another and agreed to meet in Buenos Aires when I arrive later on in the month. You kindly reassured me that you would look after me during pride and make sure I meet a deaf gay group of friends. We agreed to stay in touch via texts for the time being.

As I ventured Cafayete and Tafi des Valles, we had some contact about logistical plans. It was clear to me that you were not able to agree to my typical meticulous planning until nearer the time. Friends at home will know what I am like with planning!!! You explained that you lived quite a way away from the city centre, and that you were needing to watch your money. You kindly advised me on where to stay in the city, but you reminded me that you did not know Buenos Aires so well; you had only lived there for five months. You were from Venezuela.

I remember checking if Venezuela was a good place to explore when planning my travels in South America, and being advised that it was not safe. The current Prime Minister is ruthless, killing any opposition, and there were many problems. I decided to follow the advice of the British Embassy and did not include Venezuela in my plans.

When I learned you were from Venezuela I appreciated that you had moved to a new country, a Spanish speaking one, but I didn’t really understand the journey you had been on until I got to know you more.

Time went by and soon I was confirming my accommodation in Palermo, Buenos Aires, in a whole apartment rather than just a room. I realised that I could have friends stay over and given the long distance for you to travel from home, I offered you to stay with me. In return the company and local knowledge/networks would be great. You asked if you could bring your housemate too, we checked the accommodation details and quickly confirmed.

During this time I had a few video messages with you. You were always wearing a shirt, sat in your office. You were unable to video live chat (not appropriate whilst working).  I had always perceived you as looking rather tall.

Although we were supposed to meet when I first arrived into BA, our plans got dropped rather suddenly, and somewhat frustratingly. I tried to be cool but I could not hide my disappointment hence sent a somewhat ratty text to you to tell you I was disappointed. You told me to “be quiet” (or rather the google translate app did for tranquilo!) and promised we would meet after I got back from Uruguay.

It was whilst walking in Colonia (Uruguay) that I learned you had a deaf family. I didn’t know this before. Naturally I texted to let you know I was also from a deaf family. Something clicked there, a good exchange of messages and comparison too. I explained that my nephews and nieces were the 8th generation of deaf people known in our family. You replied that you had 16 in yours. 16!??? I double checked we hadn’t got lost in translation. We had! You meant you had 16 members in your family, you are the 6th generation deaf born. Jokingly, I said I beat you by 2 generations. We laughed at this, a common joke shared amongst deaf families.

Both you and your housemate arrived at the apartment whilst I was in the toilet – grrr! The owner had bumped into you outside and let you in. Embarrassingly I had gone to the toilet with the door open! I quickly realised Starly, that you are a lot shorter than you looked on the mobile phone! All of our video chats and messages and gosh, you are a bit shorter than me! Had always thought you were a tall guy. We greeted one another just as people do in most of South America, a kiss on the cheek out of clear respect. I quite like this custom, its certainly different to English handshakes!

After sorting our bags out we quickly popped to a nearby supermarket for some groceries and then went to a restaurant that I found on one of the streets. You were astonished as it was a Venezuelan restaurant, I could see that you affectionately missed home and home foods. You wanted us to try the cuisine and to enjoy the type of empanadas that Venezuelans eat.

Later on as we got to know one another more, there was quite a number of coincidental similarities between us. We both share the Leo starsign, we both have deaf families, and we have strong talkative Mothers!  Both our fathers  are keen on chess and have played competitively in the deaf world. Our fathers also worked in the design field. We later talk about coming out as gay to our deaf families and what the experience was like. It was quite amazing to see so many similarities.

The weekend went by and Buenos Aires gay pride was superb, we had a lot of laughs. We shared drinks and foods with our friends, we took many photos. We also talked a lot about your experience in leaving Venezuela. I learned so much about what it was really like for you:

After all the problems that the Prime Minister brought to the country, many people have been moving out of the country into other Spanish speaking countries. You had just qualified as an architect and you knew you had to leave and seek employment elsewhere. You told your parents and extended family that you would move to Argentina, they didn’t think you would. You went to Colombia “to do some sightseeing” when really it was to purchase your bus ticket to Salta, North Argentina. It was much cheaper to buy a ticket there than in Venezuela, and Colombia was only an hour’s bus journey for you.

You came home and your Dad was working on his computer as usual. He wanted to know how your day went, you were rather dismissive and then reluctantly showed him your bus ticket. His face dropped. Reality was coming to home and he knew that you had made a big decision here. He had a “How are you going to tell Mama?” written all over his face. You went over to your Mother with a great deal of nervousness.

You had described your Mother to me many times over the weekend, and also we managed to video chat with her a few times. She is a dramatic, passionate and very dedicated Mother. She des not know when to stop, she will always protect you and your siblings from anything. She always worries. She loves cats, absolutely loves them. At one point having rescued five cats, there were 20 cats in a room at home from accidental pregnancies. Your father secretly had to get rid of about 15 whilst she was away visiting family. She was so upset but came round to it eventually. Such an emotional but loveable lady, your Mother grew on me over the weekend.

You asked your Mother to stop doing the dishes. You wanted her to be calm, to sit down and to break the news to her. She had forgotten about what you had said before, and she didn’t believe you back then. You passed your bus ticket to her and her face dropped. Her baby boy was going to move away from this volatile country, and it would be a long time before she sees you again. She naturally was broken hearted, and in a daze. She was very quiet all night. The next day she asked you to go for a walk with her into the city centre. You agreed, you knew she had something planned but did not know what. She took you into a clothes shop and demanded to buy you all the new clothes needed for your new life in Argentina, to be able to work and associate yourself with local people. Her heart was breaking but there was no way any son of hers was going to live in Argentina looking rough. She started planning away, buying heaps of food for your long journey. She even packed your bag for you, and stared at the bag all night in disbelief. She also bought you an early birthday cake, a real pang came to your heart and eyes.

That night she crept into bed with you wanting to hug you forever. Morning came, and your godmother told you how she saw your Mother crying buckets all night. You were so torn. You father led the whole family to the bus station, strong and giving you that stoic leadership,. He reminded your Mother that children must be set free, that they must live their own lives. He understood you had a big challenge ahead, but he knew you would be okay eventually.

At the bus station with your family around you, you got very anxious. You had kissed each of the rooms in your house farewell. You knew things would never be the same. Your father then realised there was less than an hour left, and you all saw the bus you would be catching to Peru.

The tears came, the emotions so heavy. Your father broke down in tears, he kind of shouted at you to be really careful, to stay safe and to always protect yourself. It anguished you to see your father crying, he had given you so much guidance all your life. He gave you so much tuition whilst studying for your architectural degree. When you graduated you demanded your father came up to the stage, you publicly thanked him for his special tuition and support, making him burst into tears of pride on the stage in front of everyone.

When you are sharing your experiences to our new friends and I, it is hard to believe how much pain you have been through. You describe the never ending bus journey to Salta, over 150 hours on the bus with some breaks here and there in Bolivia and Peru. All the time your Mother was texting you constantly, wanting to know if you are okay. You decided to not reply to her for a while.

Salta didn’t work out for you for personal reasons and you headed on to Buenos Aires. You had wondered about claiming benefits, but quickly grew frustrated at the system, finding it so patronising. Just like me, you have a strong ethic in going to work and earning a living. And indeed, you found a job. As soon as that was confirmed, you contacted your parents with absolute pride, that clear message of “I did it!”. They were, and remain, in awe.

Almost daily for the past two years you have had video calls with your parents. You always end these calls feeling sad, wishing you could immediately pay for them to fly over and see you for a vacation. It will take another year of saving money each month. It is a constant challenge to keep saving money for your parents whilst wanting to explore and have fun as a young man in the capital city of Argentina.

While you cooked me Sunday lunch, you were joined by your Mother for the entire time, on the mobile phone, advising you each step of the recipe. She gets animated at times and it is so clear how much she misses you. She wants you to have fun and the independence you deserve, but equally her face is wondering when will you have saved enough money for her and Dad to fly and see you.

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At the time of writing this blog I have been away exploring South America for four months and have met so many new friends and seen a lot too. My parents have been in daily contact with me, and we know it won’t be that long before my money runs out and I go home. Whereas for you it is a totally different picture. You worry constantly about your parents, the Venezuelan Government is getting worse and more and more people are moving abroad. I recognise how lucky I am and wish that I had a magic wand for you.

Saying bye to you before going to Chile today was pretty hard. Its not every day you meet a strong deaf person, from a deaf family, mature and with determination. Additionally you are really cute too lol. Your eyes have something so unique about them, but they also contain your sorrow too.

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I hope and believe we will always be in touch and that any support emotionally I can give you will be helpful. Adios.

The Thrifty lady, (I mean a lady that works for Thrifty, now now!)

Its been raining, wet and damp for the past few days. Montevideo (in Uruguay) has been quiet, there has not been much to see. My friend has left to go back home and return to work after spending about a week together in Argentina and then 48 hours in Uruguay. I always feel sad to say bye to people but I know its not forever. Its slightly weird to return to sharing a 6-bed dormitory with other “travel-strangers”, but the place is nice and doesn’t really feel like a grotty hostel.

Of course, sharing a room with 5 other people you don’t even know takes getting used to. It has also been weird to be sharing with hearing people, I am rather conscious of every noise I make. I have been wondering about my breathing and whether its too loud. I then stop breathing and of course cough in desperate need to breathe again! Stupid me.

I remember one of my previous lodgers, a hearing friend called Danny, telling me that hearing people live in a world of sound. Hearing people fart. Hearing people make noises when sleeping. I remind myself of his wisdom and try to sleep amongst strangers in the dormitory. The guy sleeping above me (bunk beds) turns every so often and I feel every movement. I then become conscious, or too conscious, of my own movements, worrying that I disturb him.

As I drop in and out of semi-conscious sleep, I am also aware I need to leave at 615am in order to get to the airport and pick up my hire car in time. Its about 100 dollars cheaper to pick up a hired car from the airport compared to downtown here despite excessive web searches for good deals. However it also means having to get to the airport which is some 15miles away.

I wake up earlier in time to avoid my phone vibrating like some emergency is happening! I turn the phone alarm off, quickly shower and change in the bathroom. Having already packed and sorted my clothes for today, I am able to get moving quickly. I consciously remind myself to not forget my umbrella, it cost me $2.50 rather than buying a waterproof jacket for $300!

So, with my big green rucksack on one hand, my small rucksack on my back, a bloody carrier bag with laundry stuff and bottles that I would never want spilling into my main bag, and my brolly… I set out of the hostel and remember to close the door quietly.

Its disappointingly, frustratingly and utterly wet. Although its not down pouring with rain, I just find it so depressing. I walk 1.3miles to the bus station, dragging my main rucksack (broken handle see previous blog re Tafi de Valles) over the uneven pavements and puddles. I find I get really annoyed with these pavements, they are damaged by tree roots, but its just too frequent for me to have to drag my huge rucksack over big cracks, and it kind of hurts my back doing this too much. As I reach the bus station, the rain starts and it’s a little tricky to hold my umbrella up and carry my stuff into the bus although I manage. This isn’t a scheduled bus, its just this random guy who has a bus and is wanting to make some money by having some agreement with the bus ticket office. I finally sit on the bus, luggage in the seat next to me. I feel so wet, tired and enjoy the breeze that comes through the driver’s window despite raindrops spilling in.

I text several friends in the UK with my vents about the weather.  Their replies are mainly lovely, telling me to chin up and that things will be bright again.  A few tell me to stop moaning 🙂

I booked my hire car online using one of those websites that give you a good deal. I have my stuff on my phone to demonstrate proof of purchase. I have also bought damage/collision insurance on line too, again I make sure that I have the information saved on my phone.

At the airport I go inside the main building searching for the car hire desk, Thrifty. There isn’t one. There’s Budget, there’s Hertz, there’s others, but no Thrifty. I go up to the Hertz one and ask the member of staff where Thrifty is. At first he is disappointed I’m not a potential customer, but as a typical Uruguayan he is more than helpful. He tells me to look for the sign outside the main doors for the shuttle service to Thrifty cars. I realise that Thrifty isn’t based at the airport but 200 meters away.

A little tired, I make my way and find the sign – it says the shuttle bus comes every 20minutes. I look at my watch to “time” how long I wait. 45minutes later I find myself losing patience; every flipping white shuttle bus looks the same and yet it still hasn’t turned up. 7.20am, 7.30am, 7.35am, 8am… I give up and go inside and ask the general information desk to help me. They are very kind and eventually they phone Thrifty and tell them I’m waiting. They relay to me that the shuttle bus is on its way. I thank them profusely and return outside. I stare at the heavy rain downpour, wondering to myself whether its going to be worth it to drive all the way out to Punta del Diablo today – which is famous for its beach stuff.

The shuttle bus arrives, an older-looking guy jumps out and helps me with my luggage. I don’t know if he has apologised for the delay but we quickly leave. About 1.5miles away we arrive at the little Thrifty car hire shop. Well it is more like a portacabin than a shop. Its incredibly small, with a long desk and two computers that you can’t see unless the assistants turn their screen around for you. And then I see her.

She, the Thrifty attendant. She has these heavy false eye lashes, the type that has been glued on after sitting for hours in a shop. I don’t know if they do these in public shopping malls in Uruguay, but have always been intrigued as to why in the UK people get some cosmetic stuff done in the middle of the shopping walkway in various shopping centres.

Anyway, this lady introduces herself to me – it lipreads something like Maggie, I simply nod away. I give her the documentation required. She keeps batting her eyelids when reading or handling things. I further notice that she has these really long finger nails, the ones that get pasted onto old nails. They are all very pink with various patterns. They are so long that I am amazed she is able to type on my google translator app. I kind of stare closely at her fingers, wondering if it’s the nails that touch the buttons or her finger-tips. She kind of stares back at me and I gaze away. She is constantly looking at her computer screen, typing things in, asking me for detail that we frustratingly know was already given on line – pointless really!

She then asks me for $5000 security deposit. I am taken aback. The website I used didn’t say anything about this. I also don’t have that amount on any of my cards. As a traveller I have 4 cards, 2 with me and 2 in the main rucksack case in case of theft. But none of them have $5000 worth, credit or not. I am truly stuck. The rain is pouring down, and my head is just asking me what am I going to do? I look at her and then back to the google translate screen. I ask her what the solution could be. She doesn’t appear at all sympathetic, its almost as if this has happened before a number of times.

I check my booking confirmation twice, there’s nothing about needing a security deposit, let alone $5000. I start feeling rather emotional due to the sleepless night, saying bye to my friend, the bloody rain. I start wondering whether I should ask my parents for this amount but I know its way too much. I ask the Bet Lynch look-alike whether I should contact my parents to use their credit card. She says no, telling me it has to be me. She additionally types a few extra one-line messages that make no sense to me at all. I just cannot understand what she is trying to tell me.

I then type a bit of a long message, explaining that I am a solo traveller, and that whilst I understand we have a situation I needed her to stop these spontaneous one line messages and to summarise exactly what the position is and what she suggests we do. She then types away for quite a while, pink elongated nails going up and down. Each finger has its own pattern, I’m wondering how long she spent doing them. I am also wondering how she cooks, how she goes about daily chores. I mean they are so long you start imagining her frying some bacon using her nails rather than using a pair of tongs!

I log into the wifi, and call my parents on facetime. I just feel like I am in a quandary and I need some support, some wisdom. Dad doesn’t pick up. Mum doesn’t either. And then within a few minutes Mum calls me back. It’s a little slow (wifi) and then the speed gets better. We sign away and I tell them about my situation. They are reassuring but equally they confirm it is wrong to agree to a 5k deposit, just way too much.

Miss-Bet-Lynch-lookalike explains that the best thing would be for me to purchase Thrifty insurance for $12, which would mean my giving a $2000 security deposit which is within my credit allowance. I am relieved to have found a solution and whilst I am miffed given I have already purchased separate insurance, I know $12 isn’t going to kill me. I confirm I want to go ahead. She then types some more stuff, and I then understand more about what this covers me for. She explains that the additional insurance I had bought would only cover any damage or collision to other people’s cars, not the Thrifty car itself. I realise I have been misled.

The relationship between myself and Miss long-fingernails has vastly changed; she is helpful and I am more grateful. She has seen how worried I was, and how concerned my parents were. She is pleased that the solution offered is being agreed and she quickly sorts the paperwork out. She then types some more into the google translate app:

She: I am really sorry for the the frustration you experienced. I should have explained more
Me: (I touch her hand reassuringly) It’s fine, I just find it hard sometimes as a solo traveller who is deaf but also sticking to a budget too

I then show her my travel map of all the places I have been to and will be going to. She quickly gives an expression of admiration.

We start communicating more directly using gestures, and I give her a compliment on her fingernails. She likes it.

I kind of start wondering about her, why is she working behind a car hire office? Is this her dream job? Is she fed up? Does she want a career change? Does she want to travel the world and think about options for future, like I am doing. I also wonder how much she likes her fingernails, her eyelashes. Does she find them hard work or can’t she be without them?

She passes me the car keys, checks the car thoroughly with me and tells me which petrol I need to use. She types again:

“I congratulate you on your travels, it is awesome. I hope you have a wonderful time and success always”

Bless her. I ask her to take a photo of me with my car and send it to my parents immediately to reassure them.

(Disclaimer: Julie Goodyear would forgive my reference to Bet Lynch above, I am sure of it)

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(Disclaimer: The photo of pink fingernails above is taken from google images, I mean, come on do you really think I can take a photo of hers?!)