Thursday, October 31, 2013

Seeing Voices*

I've been thoroughly enjoying working the Deaf translators as well as being encouraged in my own faith in God. I travel to St James Church in Kenilworth twice a week and work with the team for four hours at a time. Let me tell you what normally happens on a regular working day.

When I arrive I sign, 'Hi' and 'How are you?' to each of the translators (Agnes, Richard and Thabo). They greet me back with, 'Fine' or 'Good'. Then they usually offer me tea. I can sign, 'coffee', 'rooibos tea' and 'hot chocolate'. All very important signs!

We open with prayer. I haven't managed to pray in sign just yet. When the Deaf pray the person praying closes their eyes as they pray. But the rest of the group keep their eyes open to watch the person praying. When I first prayed with the Deaf I, out of habit, bowed my head and closed my eyes. But of course this doesn't work when someone is signing and is actually a very disrespectful action as you are effectively closing down communication. The Deaf often pray in 'one hand' (my terminology!) where everyone prays at the same time. (As an aside, there is a lot to be said about both ways of praying with regards to how public prayer is corporate and mutually encouraging rather than just an individual phone call to God. Being able to watch the person praying forces you to 'listen with your eyes' (there's a single sign for this) just like when one person prays on behalf of a group. While I always enjoy praying in 'one voice/hand' I do wonder what happens to mutual encouragement and the sincere ability to say, 'Amen' at the end.)

The translation process begins and ends with prayer asking God to help us all to understand and translate the Bible well. If we are starting a new passage, we begin by each translator reading the passage in the Easy to Read Version (English). One translator will also read it in the NIV (English) and perhaps in the Xhosa version as well.

The conversation proceeds much like the average home Bible study. The team will ask me about words or concepts they don't understand and we'll all flip around the Bible trying to remember bits and pieces from other parts that help us to interpret the story we are working on. The next stage involves storyboarding the passage.

We have one incredibly talented artist (Thabo) who works diligently to illustrate the story in a very clear, natural and Deaf way. He even draws out the dialogue with little hands! Along the way I'll check what is being drawn and every now and then I'll pipe up with something that the team will need to discuss e.g. theophanies (when God reveals himself to people) are difficult, particularly in Genesis where God and the Angel of the Lord are interchangeable. Drawing 'the Holy Spirit coming down like a dove' from John involved a loooong discussion.

Then the team moves to filming. One person is filmed signing the introduction (the story's title and a few key unknown words and their explanations), one person signs the story and then two people sign a very important little section with some questions and answers. This way each passage is thoroughly dissected and accompanied with helpful titbits much like a study Bible. Thus far the team have translated nine stories from the Old and New Testament. It's an amazing journey to see them grow in their faith and trust in God as they press on. Thrilling work!

*The blog post title is from Oliver Sack's book, 'Seeing Voices'. Amazing and deserving a blog post review of its own in due time.