I met Levy and Tamara when they boarded a minibus that I was riding. They were communicating in a local language that I was learning in earnest, providing me with the opportunity to share halting greetings and awkward conversation. The language was Zambian Sign. Because Levy and Tamara are Deaf.
My involvement with the Deaf community in Zambia has been minimal and humbling. I had intended to be inclusive of sign language users in my research but I made a major miscalculation with respect to the findability of interpreters in Western Province. The result of this miscalculation was that the few Deaf members of the participating disabled persons’ organizations (DPOs) were mostly excluded from participating in my research. This exclusion was a perpetuation and extension of the exclusion they typically experienced in the DPOs and the community at large.
For a researcher and aspiring disability ally, the realization that my own work was systematically excluding people because of the nature of their impairment was painful. When I got the chance, I began taking sign language classes in Canada. It was only when I was back in Zambia that I confirmed that although Zambian Sign Language and American Sign Language (which is common in English Canada) are similar, they are not the same. In delicious irony, the signs for “same” and “sign language” are not the same. As you can imagine, I still have a lot work to do before I achieve the level of inclusivity to which I aspire.
Like me, Levy and Tamara are professionals who were drawn to Mongu with a sense of purpose. They are both teachers from Lusaka who were recruited by a local primary school that has classes for Deaf students, but struggles to retain Deaf teachers. Admittedly, Levy and Tamara do not have identical experiences as part of the Deaf community. Levy has been deaf (i.e., he cannot hear) since he was ten years old. Meanwhile, Tamara is hearing impaired and lives on the boundary between the Deaf and hearing communities. These differences are consequential, but less important than their commonalities: since arriving in Mongu, both Levy and Tamara have become known as “the Deaf teachers.” Together, they have established Zambian Sign Language a valid language among a subset of teachers and students within the school.
Both Levy and Tamara are looking to engage with the disability and Deaf communities in Mongu, but it is with Levy that I have had the most extensive conversations about this to-date. Having engaged with these communities (to different degrees) in my own work, I had some ideas on how Levy could approach community organizing. All this leaves me very excited to see where things are at when I next return to Bulozi. This, over and above my excitement to reconnect with Levy and Tamara and further scheme out our respective involvements together.
See Levy in more detail as one of the participants in a documentary made at Kitwe Teacher’s College, where he trained to be a teacher. Levy is the main character being interviewed, wearing a yellow and blue plaid shirt.