My new deaf friends are kind of right. I've dropped out of the sky. Even with the safe landing of a modern jet, I'm still transported into a new place where I've never set foot before.
And then there are the universals. The mechanics of language have universal properties. The variations are rich and wondrous like the K'iche clicking sound, but the way sounds are used to communicate meaning fall into the grooves of a system. Our brains are pattern makers and thirsty for more.
As I've developed momosign in three continents, I've observe something very consistent. It's too early to determine precisely if momosign facilitates language acquisition, but the consistencies that I observe across culture, gender and age is that it makes people happy. I'm not making it up. I've seen it and it's on tape.
Yet, there is still a lot of work to be done before enough people are convinced. It's a method and an idea that seems to have descended out of thin air.
Leonel (left) is the president of the "Asociacion De Desarrollo de Sordos" Thelmy is the chief interpreter. They lead an adult deaf education class on Saturdays.
They often have to scrape up money for bus fare since many of the deaf are isolated in rural villages. Everyone have a great time when they get together. After all, they probably don't have anybody to talk to in their villages.
Part of their outreach is to find the deaf in the countryside because they are often discarded and abused. One was found living under a house.
On another occasion, they showed me a video on their phone of someone trying to talk/sign to a homeless deaf man, but it appears that he had never learned any language and had never been approached in a compassionate and communicative way in his working memory.
The Deaf in this association often express how lucky they are and how important education is for them. They never forget those who haven't had this chance and are ever reminded of what life is like without being treated with dignity. That's where their strength comes from. They have a community like no other.
I have been graciously accepted by the deaf community here in Xela. They describe me as someone who just kind of dropped out of nowhere. I didn't know Guatemala sign language so I caused some confusion. At first, they didn't understand that I can hear.
We exchange big hugs every time we meet and say goodbye. Greetings are beautifully exchanged by everyone in Guatemala, but with the deaf, the hug is a bit longer, a bit warmer.
The message is, "I don't know when I'll see you next. I'll think of you. You must take good care of yourself."
The PoP program for primary students will start with three Ixil speaking schools and three K'iche speaking schools. The program is for Spanish literacy, but taking into account the students' mother tongues, we have prepared the texts in Spanish-K'iche and Spanish-Ixil.
We have also prepared Phonic Chants in the mother tongues as well as in Spanish. The sound systems are different, but there is crossover in the way sounds are transcribed. The consistency in letter-sound correlation makes it possible to familiarize students with decoding text in their own language and then hopefully transitioning to Spanish.
It has been a challenge for me to produce materials in three languages that I don't know, but the PoP team has great expertise and has risen to the challenge.
How many of our kids have lost parents or relatives during the civil war? (1960 to 1996) The indigenous Mayan populations were targets of genocide.
I'm showing my Spanish vocabulary list to a young Ixil man in Chajul. He spots the term, "Ixil triangle" which I had seen in history books. It refers to the predominantly Mayan region demarcated by three important towns.
He tells me that it is an offensive word and that it was coined during the period of genocide. He scratches the word out with a ballpoint pen, eventually vigorous enough to rip through the paper.
I know words personally that I would like to scratch out of history. I get it.
We needed a group of kids to pilot the program (momosign and Phonic Chants) so PoP arranged a classroom in the Mayan mountain town of Chaqul. The kids loved learning and we loved them. What fun when children get center stage.
We tested videos and projectors and they worked well. Videos are neutral as opposed to some teachers with their evil eyes. We took videos (Ariana in the back) of the kids focusing on the videos. No squirmy behavior during the viewing.
Apparently 30% of these kids fail school. We want to change that.
Nope, sign language is not universal. Like any spoken language, it just takes two or more to talk and consequently develop into a mutually agreed code.
I've heard of a family in the countryside in which all the children are deaf. They've developed their own sign language that makes no sense to anyone outside of the family.
I saw three men signing in Nebaj, but they didn't understand my signs for "deaf" and "name". Two were hearing, so I guess they developed a code just among the three of them.
We found that signs in Guatemala City are different from signs in Xela (Quetzaltenango), but since we're working in schools in this region, we'll base the signs locally.
Even with finger spelling (ABC), I have to switch between Lao, Ghana, ASL and now Guatemala systems. But you'd be surprised how it's not that hard once you get the fingers moving.
Welcome to Guatemala, the third PoP country. Now we've got the system down. Land, unpack, find the deaf contacts, train and run a pilot.
I'm immediately smitten with the sky. At this elevation, it is a brilliant blue and in vivid contrast to the white clouds that burst and billow upwards.
The elevation of Quetzaltenango is 2,330 meters / 7,640 feet and I find myself breathless as I climb the stairs to my room.
It's the childhood fashion in many parts of the world. You can always find a stick and an old wheel. It's fun and requires practiced skill when steered downhill.
On a dirt track in rural Laos, I was followed by a melodic "dtang-dtang" and discovered that the source of this unknown, but nostalgic sound was that of a stick on a bicycle rim, rolled in similar style.
Maybe it's early training for leading the water buffalo to the field. Or maybe it's a rudimentary metaphor of how we really can tap at our rims of fate and guide them in the way most true to ourselves.
For the first teachers' workshop, we presented momosign and Phonic Chants. We were curious to see how these experienced teachers would react. Would they want to stay dignified with chalk in hand or would they be ready to move?
With the assistance of Enyo Day (purple) the teachers took the patterned rhythm of Phonic Chants to an entirely new level. Inspired by the sound they created themselves, they were out of their chairs.