Sign Language and You

Ma was an expert in sign language.  I lowered my eyes when I found her waiting for me with her hands on her hips.  I would re-do the pots I had just scrubbed if she looked at them then looked at me.  I would hug her when she looked at me with eyes coated with honey for no particular reason.

Michelle Obama, U.S. First Lady brought her hands together in greeting in one of the many functions she graces as part of her work.  That was reminiscent of the actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, the unofficial international ambassador of her country India.  She humbly brings her hands together to Namaste people at home and abroad.  Michelle Obama has visited India and interacts with Americans of Indian descent.
Nobody knows the importance of hands in human interaction like the deaf community but I’m sure every culture has ways of conveying messages without the shouting and yelling.  Sometimes someone pulls out a gun or slaps somebody because they cannot ‘out-yell’ them.

Two hands together represented humility and respect in my part of Africa.  You accept something from somebody with your two hands.  Using one hand looks like you are grabbing it and Ma’s eyes will tell you that you are out of line.

Ma used to say ‘awuzwa’ which means I don’t listen.  She would hold her ears to show me that my ears were not working.  I laughed when I saw that in Vinglish English, which stars Sri Devi and one of my favourite Indian films.  The little boy who had crashed into his mother [Sri Devi] spilling the food held his ears to admit his fault.

People who feel that sign language is too complicated overlook the fact that they sign all the time:

·        Hands together on their face to show that the child is sleeping

·        Rubbing their tummy in glee to show that they are full

·        The thumb out, middle fingers closed to say ‘call me’

·        Shaking their hands to ask ‘what’s happening?’

·        Pointing at their wrist to ask for time or ‘we’re running late’

·        Kids rolling their eyes which is not advisable in some homes

·        People who are attracted to each other ‘talk’ with their eyes

Signing the alphabet is giving me a hard time but I’m working on it, but I’m constantly amazed at how sign language is all encompassing.  Do you know how you sign grocery shopping?  How about socks?

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the novel.


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