I was lucky enough to be taken to a ceremony celebrating the return of a boy who has been circumcised to his family home. Just enjoy the 'difference' of this, with the monsters, drummers, procession, and dancing, as I did.
One really nice thing about this for me was that I was always aware in The Gambia of the difference in wealth, and whilst people were genuinely friendly to me, as they were to each other, it was also always clear I represented potential income. I didn't find that comfortable. But at the festival the tradition is that everyone gives money to the family of the boy, to the musicians, dancers, and monster. And everyone was taking pictures. Once I understood that I felt much more relaxed.
If you don't look at anything else, watch the last video of the women dancing - and in the midst of difference you'll see people being people just like we are everywhere :)
Below: the circumcised buy, now healed, about to walk home. Karum to his right is the person who took me to the festival.
The monster emerges, and has water spat on him. Remember how hot and humid it is. The water spraying is somewhat essential.
Led by the monster (harassing cars), we process down the street, followed by the mainly children banging drums and singing, until we turn onto the dirt paths of the compounds.
The monster harasses people, but makes a happy keening sound if you pin DL to it's chest.
Outside of the family's compound a group forms, and dance for hours. I love the fun the women are having, their braggado, laughter, and joy for each other. In something very different I can see the universal human experience. Much :)
Local Deaf people were told that there was an interpreter from England who wanted to meet them. So they came. As well as discussions with them about their priorities, interpreters and interpreting, I asked if we could film them introducing themselves. They all agreed. These videos were for use by the interpreters in looking at GSL and GSL variation. The first videos are of less English influenced GSL, and show many visual grammar features, including: non-manual features (NMF), role-shift, characterisation, use of topographical and syntactic (conceptual) space, placement, simultaneity (e.g. a different sign on each hand), directional verbs, topic marking, etc. Later videos, generally of people who became Deaf when older, are more English influenced and have less NMF.
In class we watched the first 10 seconds of the first video (Ndey) over and over again, exploring the richness, subtlety and meaning of the visual grammar, and the difference between the non-manual grammar and affect (her emotional presentation). This one clip made the case, and helped open the interpreters eyes to the wonders that await once they start really looking.
They are interpreted live, mainly by Bakary. Generally they say good afternoon (thumb on chin), ask how I am (similar to BSL), introduce their name (sign for name is one handed G moved side ways in front signing space), finger spell (note the fingerspelling differs from ASL), say their sign name, explain how they became Deaf, talk about their education (sign for school forearms tap in parallel, most went to St John's Deaf school, some went to hearing schools first or only), and then say something about their experience of trying to get or being in work.
I'll make no other comment, just watch them and enjoy the richness and diversity.
This is Lamin Ceesay. he's an interloper, as he works for GADHOH, but wanted to tell us his story anyway :)
And this is all of the Deaf people, unfortunately more than we had time to video individually, gathering for the group photo.
As part of the course we had presentations from Deaf people, and a meeting / discussion with 30+ young Deaf people. One of the topics was 'what do you like and not like about interpreting'.
In both presentations and the meeting a number of Deaf people said they didn't like it when interpreters didn't interpret what they were signing.
We explored this with them and found that they were really describing two different issues.
First, what interpreting should be and looks like. For many Deaf people and interpreters in The Gambia interpreting has tended to be more English influenced, more literal, and so Deaf people were used to seeing what they signed more or less said. So when interpreters were interpreting 'properly', i.e. not saying what was signed, but interpreting meaning, Deaf people felt they weren't interpreting properly. This was something that through discussion Deaf people fairly quickly understood and accepted. This is an area of understanding that needs to be developed in partnership and discussion between Deaf people and interpreters.
Second, that when interpreters are uncomfortable with what the Deaf person is signing, they don't interpret it.
With the interpreters when asked if they would interpret everything, most said they wouldn't, giving a number of reasons, including it's offensive in itself, being uncomfortable with what's said, and that they would be seen badly by the hearing people.
We discussed these issues in class, with my challenge - 'who made you the judge'? But classroom discussion doesn't make change. For change to happen you have to do.
And so we 'did' abusive words (in Gambian English swearing not a meaningful word).
First we wrote down a list of all the abusive words they could think of in English. We explored how offensive they were, .e.g. calling someone a lier massively offensive, saying shit, offensive in some contexts with some people, e.g. abusive words used within the family, completely unacceptable.
Then we played the abusive words game. We stood in a circle and took it in turns to say the next abusive word on the list, to the next person along. Once we finished the list, we went round again, saying the words with affect. Lastly we went round again saying the words as if we meant it, with real feeling.
After the hysteria died down, and we acknowledged no one died, we discussed how this felt. From this in itself some of the interpreters felt more able to say such things if said / signed.
The list of words is below. Please don't read the words on the photos of the white boards if offended by swearing. Just skip to the next text.
Then we did the same for abusive signs in GSL. We glossed the signs, and then looked at equivalences. I.e. which signs meant more or less the same in English as they did in GSL. For example, CIRCUMCISE-YOU (see in the video below) a huge insult in GSL and English, as it implies that you haven't been circumcised, a big issue in a largely Islamic society. But LIE, in English a serious insult, in GSL not really an insult at all. Arguably because it is communication that sits within what appears to be a Deaf cultural value of direct and open communication.
We discussed these signs with some Deaf people, see the video below (filmed and shown with permission). You'll see in the video the interpreters suggest a sign that I'd describe as dry humping, which the Deaf people reject out of hand. The signs used and discussed include (in order) FUCK-YOU (middle finger version, one and two handed), a sign that doesn't have an equivalent English meaning - b hand drawn up the inside of the groin, cunnilingus - again rejected as an abusive word by the Deaf people, CIRCUMCISE-YOU, and FUCK-YOU or I'LL-FUCK-YOU (emptying tomato sauce version - meaning depends on direction of sign).
We then went back to sign the signs at each other, with feeling, and with appropriate NMF. This took a while.
Looking at LIE, STUPID, and FOOLISH, i.e. signs that would be insults in English, but not in GSL, we explored interpreting and cultural equivalence.
We looked at all of these issues in the context of the role and profession of an interpreter, Deaf people's right to communicate, including the right to be offensive and offended, and coping strategies if the interpreter felt their reputation might be damaged, including e.g. use of third person. This was particularly an issue if the Deaf person was saying something against the president of The Gambia, a language act that can get you in serious trouble.
Lastly we went round the group again asking who wouldn't interpret something they weren't comfortable with. No-one now said yes.
You'll see from the video that there was much laughter. But by the end of this process we had explored abusive words and discussed taboos, practiced glossing, looked at issues of communicative intent and equivalency of meaning, explored cultural values and how communication equivalence must take this into account, discussed the interpreters role and responsibilities, consider the linguistic access rights of Deaf people, and undertaken collaborative work with Deaf people on what was and wasn't real GSL. And the interpreters themselves had (so they say) reconsidered their stance on censorship. A serious piece of work.
As an interesting PS to this activity, one of the taboo issues that came up was that the interpreters recognised the need for Deaf Christians to access their religion, but as Muslim's felt they couldn't provide this access in a church itself. Even though The Gambia is a religiously tolerant society, to be in a church as a Muslim bordered on taboo, and was a risk to their standing in the community. One of Lamin's PD actions is to explain and discuss this issue with local religious leaders in order to get some guidance on this, and hopefully be able to provide access for Deaf Christians to their church too.
Imagine teaching in a sauna. All day. Fully dressed.
As soon as you walk in you and your students start to sweat. If you accidentally touch a piece of paper it sticks to you. Ceiling fans just stir the air. A/C sometimes makes a difference, and sometimes clearly gives it up as an impossible job.
Leave the sauna at 1:30 to have a large lunch with lots of carbs - rice & cous cous.
Back in to the sauna. Now throw some water on the stones to crank up the temperature and humidity.
You have never seen a post lunch student slump like this.
The only way to manage it was to get them up on their feet and doing exercises (100 ways to say 'I love you' the clear favourite).
After almost three weeks of this (along with the prep work outside of the course) I feel like I've been steam cleaned and knackered.
And I might have broken the students.
If you want to know more about the mechanics of being boiled alive (who knew about dew point) then read below. The graphs for August /September show 65-100% humidity, 23-34% dew point. Dew points become oppressive around 25°C.
Humidity is an important factor in determining how weather conditions feel to a person experiencing them. Hot and humid days feel even hotter than hot and dry days because the high level of water content in humid air discourages the evaporation of sweat from a person's skin.
When reading the graph below, keep in mind that the hottest part of the day tends to be the least humid, so the daily low (brown) traces are more relevant for understanding daytime comfort than the daily high (blue) traces, which typically occur during the night. Applying that observation, the least humid month of the last 12 months was January with an average daily low humidity of 16%, and the most humid month was September with an average daily low humidity of 74%.
But it is important to keep in mind that humidity does not tell the whole picture and the dew point is often a better measure of how comfortable a person will find a given set of weather conditions. Please see the next section for continued discussion of this point.
Dew point is the temperature below which water vapor will condense into liquid water. It is therefore also related to the rate of evaporation of liquid water. Since the evaporation of sweat is an important cooling mechanism for the human body, the dew point is an important measurement for understanding how dry, comfortable, or humid a given set of weather conditions will feel.
Generally speaking, dew points below 10°C will feel a bit dry to some people, but comfortable to people accustomed to dry conditions; dew points from 10°C to 20°C are fairly comfortable to most people, and dew points above 20°C are increasingly uncomfortable, becoming oppressive around 25°C.
Wifi & printing
Sorry no posts for the last week, when it rains, wifi goes awol. (When it rains, often the electricity goes awol too.)
Why that matters is that I can only print handouts for the students if I email them to GADHOH and they print them. No wifi, no email, no handouts.
I would of course use my USB drives, except GADHOH computers are so old and cranky that they won't read data sticks, at all, not even with cajoling. And I can't use the hard drive I brought over because formatted for the Mac laptops.
We had a brief wifi window mid week, emailed with joy, and GADHOH ran out of printer ink, so couldn't print them.
Ink finally arrived Friday, so handouts for discussions at the end of previous week get given to students a week later.
Then there's also the stealth wifi. That's when wifi shows on the computer, and so you email, and nothing happens. Sometimes the wifi eats your email, and sometimes it appears at the other end when wifi reconnects.
I don't promise never to moan at slow UK wifi speeds ever again, but it might take me a while.
This is the students half way quiz. Bonus points to any of you who reply with the numbers of the two trick questions, and explain why they are trick questions :)
1) What is the role (purpose) of non-manual features (NMF) in GSL? Can you give three examples of NMF.
NMF are phonemes and morphemes, and have a grammatical function in GSL. NMF add and changes meaning.
2) How can you use your knowledge of everyday language to help you as an interpreter?
It helps to understand how to produce appropriate fluent language, and helps use your internal monitor to check that you are producing appropriate fluent language (e.g. not interpreting into GSL influenced English, or into English structure influenced sign).
3) You are interpreting a meeting between the owner of a panel beating workshop and his Deaf employee. The teacher uses vocabulary that you think doesn’t have a GSL equivalent. What can you do?
Ask what should you do if … The answer is, it depends, then you need to give some options, and say which you might choose & why.
4) Give three reasons why is it useful to watch videos of Deaf people using GSL?
Most people understood this. It is useful though to think how will you watch it to achieve these things. E.g. will you look for particular NMF / grammatical features? Watch with colleague / Deaf person, then discuss what you see (and don’t see)? Use to practice interpreting, e.g. into English with good prosody / reflecting the speaker / reflecting all the NMF? Etc.
5) You are interpreting on a teacher training course. There are two Deaf people on the course. The teacher explains something, and you don’t understand what the teacher has said. What should you do?
Ask what should you do if … The answer is, it depends, then you need to give some options, and say which you might choose & why.
6) How long should your time lag be, and why is time lag important?
Time lag needs to be long enough to understand, and will vary.
7) Hesitation markers and fillers. Give an example of each in an English sentence? How can they affect what a hearing person thinks of a Deaf person?
I think, I think, my name is Darren.
Ummm, I’d like to, ummm, tell you about my experience.
Finding work is hard, like, like, we don’t have interpreters, you know.
They can make the Deaf person sound less certain and less confident than they are, if these are in the TL but not the SL.
8) What is the most important job of an interpreter? Explain why you think this.
To achieve the communication objectives of the participants. Because if this is achieved the communication was successful, even if there were other problems.
9) Write a sentence in GSL? Explain why it might be more useful to do this than write the sentence in English.
NAME d-a-r-r-e-n SIGN-NAME CURLY-HAIR
The reason you GLOSS is so that you a) have a way of writing GSL so you can remember it, and b) so if you want to write something to help you remember e.g. a presentation in GSL, you don’t use written English, which can influence you.
10) English has lots of words. Sign languages including GSL have relatively few signs. Discuss.
Some languages have lots of lexical items, e.g. English has lots & lots of words. Other languages like GSL have less lexical items (signs) but the meaning of those items can be changed though manual and NMF morphemes to mean lots of different things. This is productive morphology.
11) Should interpreters interpret word for word?
No, interpreters should look for intent and meaning. Then interpreters should look at other equivalencies (e.g. information, culture, prosody, surface form).
12) Why is it important interpreters know how to sign the National Anthem?
So that Deaf people aren’t and don’t feel excluded. It is an interpreters job to ensure that Deaf and hearing people feel included in all communication.
See blog on National Anthem for full story.
Why interpreters should know the Gambian National Anthem - sheer brilliance from Momodou, a GSL teacher.
Sheriffo & Momodou, two Deaf GADHOH staff, had been asked to do a presentation to us titled "GSL interpreting, what Deaf people would like interpreters to know."
Momodou started, introduced himself, and then without explanation told the four interpreters to leave the room. He shut the door.
Momodou wrote two words on the whiteboard - NATIONAL ANTHEM.
One at a time he brought the interpreters in to face the whiteboard. Then he turned them around to us and told them to sign it. (Note the spelling)
One by one, the interpreters came in, tried, and gave up, not knowing the words. (Apparently the Gambian National Anthem is very long)
Once the last interpreter sat down, Momodou explained what it felt like to be a Deaf person at a presidential event, standing with everyone else to sing the National Anthem, and then - just standing, watching mouths move whilst people sing. Present but excluded.
Momodou said that the interpreters needed to know the National Anthem so that rather than just sing along they could all interpret it for the Deaf people present at presidential addresses.
And then he thanked them.
With a simple example, and 30 seconds of teaching, Momodou demonstrated what it felt like as a Deaf person to be excluded, told the interpreters that their professional role was to prevent that from happening, and thanked them, assuming that they now understood.
Momodou's 30 seconds - 15 above, 15 below. I've been told the videos posted from The Gambia don't always play. But they do sometimes. Worth persisting. It's beautiful.
We also now have 40+ videos of 20+ Deaf people using GSL, a number of those videos also having live simultaneous interpreting, and video of the interpreters working into GSL.
And this is the gecko climbing up the outside of the fly screen on my window before dawn this morning.
Just before I left England we had a request from the interpreters for more laptops.
In just three days the request to interpreters yielded two older MacBooks, one Asus PC, and several offers to pay for second hand lap tops for me to take.
The problem now was that I had three lap tops to take, with a 20kg cargo and 5kg hand luggage allowance, tops. Just one of the Macs weighed 4kg!
I thought I’d try and see what I could get away with, packed a 21kg suitcase, 7kg hand luggage, a shoulder bag weighing 6kg, and a MacBook in a case in my hand. A total of 34kg, 9kg over.
Given that excess luggage is £15 a kg, it would have cost £135 extra. Just not affordable.
I explained about the project and the laptops to the woman at the flight desk. She called the supervisor who said I could take two but not three of the laptops.
After the supervisor left, the lady at the flight desk whispered to me, “quick, take all three laptops in your shoulder bag, I’ll check both suitcase in to cargo, and will write a note on your boarding pass saying ‘laptops allowed charity’ in case they stop you.” Which she did. (Top right hand corner).
All I had to do was carry my 9kg shoulder bag so as not to draw attention!
And so, 9 hours later I was in Gambia with the three laptops. The interpreters are absolutely chuffed. That’s one laptop for permanent use at GADHOH, for editing videos, and for the senior interpreter to use. One for the other interpreters to borrow as needed. And one for the interpreter in Basse so he can access the internet, and record / edit films of GSL.
small kindnesses big appreciation