If you have had any interest in sign language, or have interacted with someone who signs, then you know a thing or two about the immense importance of facial expression.
On Tuesday, sign language interpreter Youla Nzale impressed Kenyans who watched President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Devolution Conference in Kirinyaga County.
Ordinarily, Kenyans watch the sign language interpreter at the bottom right hand end of the screen. But with Nzale, who took social media by storm, her impressive performance was too big to be contained in the small box at the bottom right hand corner.
A sign language interpreter should help the deaf or hearing-impaired individuals understand what is being said in a variety of situations. They must understand the subject matter to accurately translate what is being spoken into sign language. Nzale did not disappoint.
For Kenyans who are irked by the daily media reports of funds embezzlement and misappropriation, Nzale seemed to have mastered the art of interpreting for the hard on hearing, as well as expressing what all Kenyans are grappling with.
She twisted her lips, raised her shoulders, bugged out her eyes and furrowed her face, all in a bid to interpret Uhuru’s frustration in the fight against corruption. Fists, palms and fingers, all worked in unison as Nzale interpreted Uhuru’s speech. Her eyes were wide open when she signalled “I believe”, signalling hope that the war on corruption can be won. Nzale’s index fingers were pointed when she signalled, “Are we in agreement? Okay?”
Nzale looked askance when the President said, “Where is the problem? What are you afraid of? Walk to the DCI and report your findings.”
Kenyans who do not sign agreed that her performance educated, entertained and informed them as well.
When Uhuru mentioned weddings and funerals, Nzale signalled a bridal veil and grave respectively.
Her facial expression matched the tough-talking Uhuru who said those who believe he has stolen public funds should head to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, not issue threats at funerals.
Nzale was described on Twitter as the sign language interpreter who outshone Uhuru at the Devolution conference.
Twitter user Elijah Kimulwo said, “The sign language lady in red is very impressive, [I] like her body language, she looked more irritated than the President.”
The Kenyan Sign Language is used by more than half of Kenya's estimated 600,000 deaf population.
In October last year, Parliament said funds would be set aside in the next financial year to hire sign language interpreters.
National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale said the move was aimed at facilitating the committee sessions and other proceedings in the August House.
He made the remarks before the House Labour Committee when he presented a petition by the Kenyan Deaf Community.
The lobby wanted the National Assembly to allocate adequate funds to support the promotion and development of sign language.
Additionally, the petitioners urged Parliament to amend the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013, to provide for establishment of a special fund to facilitate research in Kenya Sign Language development and training.