Deaf Church

I headed to one of the two local Deaf churches this morning with the other PCTs and two of our trainers.

Church was about 2 and half hours long.  We sang many songs, had a couple of testimonies, and prayed.  We also introduced ourselves to the other 20-30 people in attendance.  We told them our names, our name signs, which states we were from, and if we were hearing or deaf.

In America, it is common for Deaf events to have a drum as the only form of music.  Turns out it’s common here in Kenya as well!  🙂


Morning Assembly

They have morning assemblies at the school for the deaf.

All the primary school children gather by the flag post after breakfast.  They raise the flag, say prayers, and sing songs.  The teachers also go over rules and call out those who have been misbehaving.  They also praise good behavior.

Children head to their classrooms after the assembly.  We then shake hands with each other (Headmaster, PCTs, teachers, etc.) before we head to our training sessions at the school.

PCTs and Churches

Many PCTs decided to go to church with their host family last Sunday.  I chose not to but I do hope to eventually go at some point during my training since it would be a good way to learn more about the community.  I also plan on checking out a local Deaf church with the other PCTs.

I chose not to go to church because I frankly already knew what kind of experience I might get.  I have gone to church many times without a sign language interpreter and it’s so hard to follow what is being said in a big place (hard to see to lipread and acoustics isn’t great).

PCTs who went to church last Sunday had a good experience and want to go again.  However, many of their comments bought back a lot of memories of my experiences as the only deaf person at a church.

Some of the comments I got from the other PCTs:

–I got excited when I heard random English words here and there.  I couldn’t understand anything except for that split second.

–I stuttered when they asked me to stand up and introduce myself.  I wasn’t sure if I understood what they wanted me to do.

–I was embarrassed when I was asked to stand up and say my name.  I didn’t know if what I was doing was right because I couldn’t understand them.

It’s kind of nice to know it’s not just me who seem to get shy/awkward/lose self-confidence when I’m in a situation where I can’t understand what is going on….it appears to be a normal reaction.  The only difference is that this is new to my fellow PCTs but this is something I’ve lived with everyday as a deaf person.


Sign Names: KSL vs ASL

You’re given a sign name if you’re part of the deaf community or if you’re learning sign language.  It is considered a “cultural rule” that you must get your sign name from a deaf person.

Generally, a person’s sign name in ASL will start with the first letter of their name.  A lot of times the sign will be somewhere on the chest, arm, or head.

KSL is very different.  It’s rare for a person to get a sign name that starts with the first letter of their name or any letter.   Many name signs will demonstrate something unique to a person’s physical appearance.

A few examples:

–A person has a birthmark on his ear so his sign name is up by his ear.

–A person used to wear hats all the time so her sign name is similar the shape of a baseball cap.

–A person has a cute little nose that turns upwards so her sign name emphasizes that.

–A person used to suck two of his fingers as a kid so his name sign is similar to that.

–A person loves heart so her sign name is similar to drawing a half of a heart.

–A person used to have severe acne so her sign name illustrates that.

I thought it was already hard to figure out a person’s name with ASL.  Oftentimes, deaf people don’t mouth words and it is common for people to not know each other’s names and only their sign name.  So if you forget their name after they introduce themselves (it is expected for a person to fingerspell their name and then show their name sign….and from that point on you use their sign name).  I could usually eventually figure out a deaf person’s name by lipreading a hearing person and taking into account knowing the first letter of their name.

With KSL it’s impossible to even start guessing what a person’s name could be!  There’s nothing from the name sign to even begin to suggest what their name could be.

It’s fascinating…….

The Sun

This may sound kind of dumb but….

The sun feels like it’s much closer here than back in Kansas!  I can barely even look up at the sky when the sun is out.  I’ve been pretty good at remembering to put on sunscreen everyday except for 2 mornings.  I’m still trying to get into a routine of how things work around here.

The two mornings when I forgot to put on sunscreen….I was barely outside (maybe 20 minutes at the most).  Sure enough, my forehead and nose got sunburnt.

You can really feel the intense of the sunshine….that is…when the sun is out.

It actually gets cold here in Kenya and is very rainy!  October is Kenya’s cold and rainy season.  It has rained at least every other day since I’ve been here.  It also sometimes get into the 40s in the evenings/mornings.   When the sun is out, it’s usually in the 70s with a nice little breeze.

Volleyball and Gymnastics

Children at the local school for the Deaf are pretty athletic.  They showed off their gymnastics skills the other day.  They were doing handstands and walking down hills on their hands!  A couple of them tried doing several back handsprings on the grass.

They have a what appears to be homemade volleyball net and they have some pretty good volleyball skills.

I have no idea if any of the schools in Kenya have organized sports or not.  I kind of doubt many schools (if any) have organized sports.  Children at this school for the Deaf have the potential to have some great sport teams.

It is refreshing to see children play outside all day long instead of staring at a phone or play video games all day long.  Then again, I wonder if they ever get bored with being outside.  Then again, they’re pretty good at inventing games.

The swing set at the school is broken but yesterday someone bought out a rope and the children were making their own swings from the rope on the swing set and from trees.

Sometimes our breaks from training happens to be at the same time as the children’s break.  It’s pretty fun to get to play with the children.  There is something about just getting up and moving around that makes a person feel much better!

The Stares…..

Many RPCVs (Returning Peace Corps Volunteers) have said they felt like they were living in a fishbowl during their service.

I knew that once I set foot in Kenya that I would get a lot of stares.  What I didn’t expect was that I found myself used to the stares almost immediately.

It has bought back memories of being the only deaf person in a classroom of 800 students and being the only deaf person in a school of 1,100 students.  The stares I would get from everyone once they saw my hearing aids or saw me signing.

The only difference is that I can hide signing and I can hide my cochlear implants.  I can’t exactly hide being white.

What I find the most challenging about the stares is I want so badly to know what is going through people’s minds when they see me.

Sometimes these stares draw comments as well (positive and negative) and I want to know what people say to me as I walk by.  I can sometimes tell when they’re saying “hi” and “how are you?” without lip-reading but other than that I have no idea if they’re saying something negative or positive.  I have no idea if I should react to hearing a voice or take the risk of appearing rude and continue to walk.  Then again, sometimes I’m glad I can’t understand what people are saying.  I don’t get drawn into conversations with strangers and I don’t hear the potentially hurtful things people might be saying.

Every once in a while I see a white person not associated with the Peace Corps (I think there’s a group from Europe in town as well).  I catch myself doing double takes and I think to myself “What in the world are they doing here?!  What do they want?!”  Also when I see pictures of myself standing next to a bunch of Kenyans….I realize how much I really do stand out.  It’s moments like those that actually make me concerned when people don’t stare at me….people should be curious.

I have been really surprised that the stares haven’t bothered me at this point.  Maybe I’m more used to it than I realized I was or maybe it’s too early in my PCV journey.

The only thing that bothers me about the stares (other than the fact it may put me at an increased target for robbery) is that it drives me bonkers not knowing what is going through people’s minds when they see me.  What kind of stereotypes do they have?  Do they get scared when they see me (I’ve had a couple of young children look terrified but most of them will wave, smile, and follow me)?  Do they trust me?  What do they see when they see me?  What do I look like to them?

Jayhawks in Kenya

I am a KU (University of Kansas) alumni.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with college basketball, KU is a BIG basketball school.  KU basketball season officially started last night.

My little brother ran across my netbook today so I decided to seize the opportunity to educate a child about the magic and joy of KU basketball.

He had the BIGGEST smile on his face when he saw Jayhawk and Baby Jay in this video:

I also showed him a Rock Chalk chant video. As soon as he heard the chant and saw the people swaying…he started swaying and was all smiles.

Want to know what it’s like to be deaf? Go to a new country!

I have oftentimes been asked what it’s like to be deaf.  It’s hard for me to answer that question because I don’t know anything else.

Let me ask you, what is it like to be hearing?  Kind of hard to answer that question when you haven’t been deaf.

The closest comparison I have been able to come up with is to go to a different country where you’re not fluent in their language.  In many ways the frustrations that you would experience is what I experience on a daily basis.  In other ways it’s not the same.

However, a couple of situations this week  made me realize how much of what is new to fellow PCTs  is what I have always experienced on a daily basis.

Situation #1:

Attempting to communicate with host families who only speak Swahili or aren’t fluent in English has been challenging for some of the PCTs as well as myself.  However, I am more used to it because I have dealt with communication barriers almost everyday of my life.  People have mentioned they’re unsure and not as confident as to what’s going on.  This is how I feel sometime when I’m in a group of hearing people when they don’t sign.

Situation #2:

We had an activity yesterday where we were split up into 2 groups.  One group was supposed to be tourists who just arrived in a new country and wanted to know how to get around town.  The second group was supposed to be locals.  Some people in the second group had index cards taped to them and some didn’t.  I was in the tourist/foreigner group and was supposed to ask one person with an index card and one person without an index card how to get around town.

We weren’t told this until the end of the activity:  People with the index cards were supposed to just smile and say nothing.  People without the index cards could answer your questions and could repeat your questions.

I went up to one person with an index card and quickly figured out they weren’t supposed to answer us.  It was interesting to see how some of the other people who could hear kept trying to ask questions and were becoming a bit frustrated and uneasy because they weren’t sure why their questions weren’t being answered.

I then went up to a second person without an index card because I had seen her answer someone’s questions.  I signed to her not realizing she didn’t know any sign language (I felt really bad for putting her on the spot).  She wouldn’t answer my questions because she wasn’t sure how to communicate with me.

I found it fascinating that even though the outcomes of speaking with two people were supposed to be different…they were the same for me.  Person #1 didn’t answer my questions because I was a tourist/foreigner.  Person #2 didn’t answer my questions because of the communication barrier between hearing-deaf people.

I kind of wish we could have discussed this issue after the activity because after all we will be working with deaf children and teenagers.  I think it’s important for everyone to understand that how we’re feeling as foreigners in a new country is how deaf people feel on a daily basis.