Dienstag, 3. November 2009

train no go sorry.

In ASL, there is a saying "Train Go Sorry". I'm told that it's sort of like the equivalent of having "missed the boat", but it's especially used when a Deaf person has missed an announcement or something that a hearing person would take for granted.
When I learned sign, I used to use it now and again with my friend Marcus. He's a fantastic lip-reader and speaks beautifully, but I would use it to spell things he may have wanted clarify and when it was too loud for him to adjust his volume. I never translated for him in any sense of the word, but I certainly reinforce or acted as a back up now and again when I could or when he wanted. The first time that I ever did need to use sign to explain auditory things for a Deaf person was on a train.
I was headed home (to Philly) from DC and the train stopped. It stopped a long time. Eventually an announcement came through telling us that the stop was due to a suicide victim. A number of announcements followed and the delay dragged on. After using the WC I emerged to find a man gesticulating wildly with a notebook and being ignored by a train attendant. I realized that he was Deaf and told him "I sign". He was relieved and asked me to ask questions of the attendant for him. (Note: he did not ask me what I know, but to ask the questions for him.)
Now, I would be remiss not to explain that I was very upset at this point. I was in the WC splashing water on my face after having a good cry from feeling so helpless on this train which was ultimately usurped as an instrument of death. I was new to train travel at that point and had never had this experience before and I was shaken.
Translating provided a much needed distraction and I was glad for it. "How long will we be stopped for?" I asked, prompted by his signs.
"No one knows" I signed for him as the attendant spoke.
"Why are we stopped? What is the problem?" I asked with him.
"Someone jumped in front of the train and is stuck under the wheels." This had not been the announcement over the loudspeakers. This was far more disturbing. I didn't want to sign this. It was at this point that I realized that I had the power to protect him from this information. He would never need to know and would never be worse-off for not having known. I could spare this man from whatever guilt that I was feeling.
The thing about the people who are Deaf whom I know, (and what they confirm about other people who are Deaf) is that there is no mincing of words (or signs, I suppose). There is not the "compliment sandwich" or "talking out both sides of their mouths" of the hearing world. Clear communication is so important that there is probably no sign for "tact". I remember having a huge scratch on my nose, how my hearing friends would glance at it and look away and say nothing, how Marco saw it first thing and said "What happened?! Are you ok?" Or one of the MANY pregnant-teens who are Deaf who would be asked "Is it happy pregnant?" and would be expected to answer this honest (to a hearing person, probably offensive) question honestly.
I signed exactly what was said. Her explanation and his following (brutally honest) question of the status of the person.
"The person is stuck and dead or stuck and still alive?"
I translated until the translating was done and then went to my seat and wept until the next announcement. Another train had come for us and we would be exiting our train and entering the next train. We were to be careful to exit the first train, set both feet on the ground and only then, step up to the next train. Under no circumstances were we to touch both trains simultaneously. It would result in electrocution. Appropriately I was jolted from my seat and began searching the train for the man who is Deaf. I had my renewed purpose and was cursing the audio announcements and lack of visual cues. I found the man and clearly explained the announcement and had finished my first ever work of translation.
I think about this story a lot now while I'm doing my translation thing but I think of it as well when I'm commuting to my translation school. I commute with the train 4 times a week. I love it, actually. I know where my favorite cars are, I know which train I like best, I know how long I have between stations to use the loo if I need to. What I don't love is the far too frequent announcement that my train is delayed due to "Personenunfall" ("personal misfortune or accident"). I've never again been on a train that has actually caused a persons death, but the bong-bong-bong (there is an accompanying blue light to indicate that an announcement is being made) and following recorded message announcing the far too regular occurrence (Switzerland has the 19th highest suicide rate annually) is always jarring and I hope that it always remains jarring. I don't want to get used to pointless death. My train stops at the airport and I often hope that those people sighing in frustration at the announcement don't understand the German and they are not Swiss people feeling inconvenienced and nothing else. While all other announcements are made in German, French and English (Italian in the trains headed south) this announcement goes untranslated.

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