The Reporter (Gaborone) Morongwa Phala
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Date Posted: 03/10/05 3:36:51pm
Mahalapye-born, Albertina "Mmamane" Kanguatenge may be a little ungraceful in her dancing steps and without caution in the sounds she makes, as evident in her breathing rhythm.
Now and then she wheezes and makes muffled sounds, but unlike most people she does not pay attention to these conscious movements and rhythms.
Neither does her 23-year-old brother, Martin, who for the interview is Albertina's ears and Showbiz's voice. Interpreting for his sister seems to have become somewhat an odd job since she was chosen to represent Botswana at Miss Tourism World that was hosted by Zimbabwe on February 26.
To Albertina, just being able to participate was an achievement enough in itself for a teenager born with certain limitations. The 19-year-old has both speech and hearing impairment. She, however, admits that she can hear loud noise and feel some sound vibrations around her.
"With a hearing aid she can almost hear, or rather feel sound, completely. Normally she uses it when she is out and about," says her brother. When wearing a hearing aid she is able to respond to someone calling out for her attention, and she is also able to hear traffic to keep away from the danger of running into a car or being hit by one. But even with an aid, conversation can still be difficult to carry out without an interpreter to communicate in sign language.
Albertina is alive to conversation and if she wants to respond to an issue she grabs a pen and paper to write some of the answers to the questions posed by Showbiz. It then becomes clear that Martin is not able to understand everything that his sister says (in sign language).
"I can only understand some words, but not the difficult ones and I am not as fast as she is in the use of signs. Half the time she has to slow down for me to understand what she says," he explains.
After scribbling autobiography-book-style, she passes the piece of paper to Showbiz.
It reads, "Born in March 27, 1986. Read a lot of magazines and watch too much television. My favourite artists are Usher and Destiny's Child. Favourite destination: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Harare is the most beautiful place I have ever been to. Favourite sport: swimming. My favourite meal is rice with chicken and salad.
Currently my vice is not exercising enough, but I am going to change that considering that my five-year plan is to become a professional model. That also means I must not gain weight. My ultimate dream is to go outside Botswana some day to try my luck in the United Kingdom (UK).
UK is my first option because during my earlier school going days, a lot of white people came to our school bearing gifts and they spent time with us. They seemed to be a lot nicer than a lot of people in our surroundings."
Though she appears to be like any average teenager, her life is nothing compared to that of others.
Her brother interjects, "She sees the world much more differently than you and I. People treat her differently than you and I and that has shaped a certain perspective for her about different people and their behaviour."
For instance, more often than not when she is around groups of people she feels that some of them do not like being around her because they feel uncomfortable.
Then she signs as her brother deciphers, "It was my first international pageant and I experienced things I never thought I ever would. Everything was new to me. It was basically tough, much more so because of the communication barrier. Nonetheless, I was happy about it even if I did not win. I feel like I achieved something."
During her stay in Harare for the pageant, even with the bevy of other international beauties she was still isolated because the other girls got more attention.
Millicent Shunda, director of Culture and Heritage Botswana Pageant Trust and chaperone to Miss Tourism Botswana 2005 at the pageant, told Showbiz that she did not receive a lot of media attention because the media did not give her the opportunity to communicate with them.
"As soon as they found out that she could not speak they moved on to the next beautiful girl," she says. To add to the communication problem, the interpreter that they had employed could not understand Albertina because of differences in the sign language.
"The interpreter's sign and mine were like an English speaking person trying to communicate with a French speaking one. I was really disappointed. We did not understand each other at any point." Her new best friend, Miss Tourism Kenya, Grace Marina speaks sign. She became an important part of communication during the pageant," Albertina says.
When Marina was not around she had to use her instincts to guess what was being communicated.
Her brother agrees that this almost badgered her confidence.
But to keep going she had to remember former beauty-queens such as the hearing-impaired and vocally-impaired Boitumelo Moanakwena once her senior at Ramotswa and Mpule Kwelagobe, both of whom achieved what was once thought impossible for them in the world of pageantry.
Currently, Albertina has completed three years of secondary education. She will soon begin studies in textile, a subject not of her first choice.
"I wanted to study computers, but government has not introduced that option for us yet in our education programme," she says.
In the meantime studying is the most important factor in her life.
Though she has had many suitors, she says that none have come close enough to being an actual boyfriend.
"She is a Christian and she takes it seriously. Other than our Muslim brother she is the only Christian in the family. My other two sisters and I, along with our parents, do not pursue any religion," says her brother. Albertina signs, "I have tried to encourage them to join the Christian faith, but they do not seem to want to. I am okay with that."
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