25/06/2012 This interview was a different one altogether. It was with Ladislao Rodríguez Bonilla (68), a Harían barber who is both deaf and mute and communicates in Spanish, whereas I speak English and unfortunately "hola" and "adios amigo" are the extent of my Spanish vernacular. But I simply had to meet the man who was awarded with the prestigious Canarian gold medal, the ‘Medalla de Oro’ in May 2011, the highest award a person in a non-military field can be nominated for. Intrigue does not fully encapsulate my feelings over how this man could communicate - how we would communicate. I had heard if one was none the wiser, it was possible to have a conversation with him and not realise he was mute or deaf so. What is a life of silence like? Interesting is certainly an understatement. Lanzarote37° met up with Ladislao in Haría one fine sunny summer Sunday.
Without any bumps or mishaps the interview commenced and soon I found myself being swept into an entirely different world altogether. One where there was silence. Where there was patience. Where there was understanding. My companion, Sarah Schulz, along with Ladislao's niece, Margaret Betancor Rodríguez, and lifelong friend, Jesús Perdomo Ramírez, were all present. Stripped of any languages and left purely with a raw form of communication, a fascinating tale was woven with interruptions every now and then from Ladislao, who added his own bit through gestures and mimes, ensuring that Jesús was telling the tale correctly and not leaving anything out. Afterward, he would once again sit back happy and content until he wanted to add something else - safe in the knowledge that we understood him. And we did. Anyone watching on, unbeknownst to the situation would not be in anyway aware to the fact that Ladislao could not hear a single word.
The sound of silence
Suddenly a loud screech from across the road interrupted the quiet morning. Two cars going around a corner across the square narrowly avoided each other. Utterly unaware of the interruption Ladislao did not even flinch, as we braced ourselves at the squealing of brakes. However, a purple flower fell from the arch of posies above our heads and he noticed and swiped it off the table. A police man walked down the road too far for the normal eye to see and Ladislao waved - he came into sight a full minute later.
Fascination growing, I sat listening to the hum of Spanish and imagined what it must be like to be unable to talk or hear anything. I didn’t understand a word that was spoken at the table - the only time I actually did understand was when Ladislao added to the story in a way which would put Charlie Chaplin to shame.
A fascinating tale
Born in 1942 in Haría, Ladislao is one of four children; his sister was also born mute and deaf and currently lives with him in the town. The fact that he could not hear or speak did not hinder Ladislao - being the best at everything and famous on the island without ever uttering a word is quite a feat, yet one that he is proud of. From childhood he displayed the cheerfulness and fondness for jokes that is still quite obvious today, ensuring he is, and always has been a very popular person.
Inside the small barber shop on Calle La Hoya, which opened in the 1960s and surrounding the single wooden stool which stands in the middle of the floor, Ladislao’s entire life story is displayed. From an early age he has always been very involved in sports, especially football and Lucha Canaria (Canarian ring fighting). Therefore adorning the walls are many photos from years gone by, from his days playing as a goalkeeper with a local football team to his involvement in the Lucha Canaria along with photos of sport figures and his role in public life. Without the need for words, we were handed picture after picture and walked slowly around the small barber's shop, spanning a lifetime of fifty years in five minutes. What a fascinating way to get ones hair cut. What a fascinating life.
Ladislao decided to become a barber at 17, leaving Haría in 1958/59 to travel to Gran Canaria and train. He is now quite famous for cutting men’s hair and beards, a testament to his talent being the queue to his barber shop which often extends out the door and along the street outside. Having witnessed the queue myself, one would imagine that this may be an issue. However, firstly it is Ladislao and he is quite talented at the art of hair-cutting, and secondly, his customers are quite content to wait patiently whilst indulging in topics ranging from Spain to God and the world. Ironically in this way Ladislao brings people together through communication and socialising without ever uttering a word - the quiet man who is not really quiet.
His integration and involvement with sports and in Haría society is what earned him the Canarian gold medal, the ‘Medella de Oro’, an award given for outstanding achievements in sports and for his close collaboration with both sporting and social organisations. Ladislao presented his award to the people of Haría at a ceremony on the night of San Juan 2011, the medal being without a doubt an outstanding achievement in Ladislao’s very interesting and varied life. Ladislao originally received the award from the Canarian President Paulino Rivero Baute on Día de Canarias (Canaries Day -30th of May 2011) in the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Our interview soon began to conclude and I found it to be one of the most enlightening and interesting interviews I had ever done, and I was sure that in the years to come I would remember it: the interview without a spoken word. My head still abuzz with questions - different ones this time - however, as I knew now that while the man standing in front of me could not speak or hear, he was blessed in a different way involving the art of communication. He is able to bring people together, he is able to spot something a mile down the road, he is one of the nicest and most pleasant people I have ever met and is gifted at being able to tell if something bad is going to happen.
It was clear that the man standing in front of me, even though he did not have the normal five senses, he did have five senses - just not the ones that you or I may possess. For example, I was intrigued to hear the story of when the bus crashed into his house; Ladislao was not in the house at the time although his sister was. Unlike the normal person who may receive a warning from a loud screech or the sound as brick meets metal, Ladislao’s sister received neither. In that second she chose to get up and therefore she was not in her usual place when the bus crashed through the house and crushed the chair in which she should have been sitting. Ladislao in the telling of the story was very adamant that he knew something was wrong, what was wrong he didn’t know, but he knew something was, as did his sister. And that whenever something is about to happen he knows about it beforehand.
Taking this into account as well as the laughter lines on Ladislao`s face, it is apparent that this man was indeed very happy with his lot in life and possibly the most popular man I had ever met. Watching as we said our goodbyes, he was greeted left, right and centre as we parted, and even though his barber shop was closed he still had the odd person popping in and out as we walked away simply to say "hola".