Signs of change in Moldova

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(published Jan. 27, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I was very impressed with Justin, who hadn’t even heard of Moldova before going there to volunteer. Since then his world has opened up, and he keeps in touch with several friends there. Before doing this story I’d never thought about sign language being specific to written and spoken languages. Even British and American is different. I learned a lot about it during my interview with Justin. Very interesting!

WHO: Justin Goujon, 27, of Methuen, Mass.

WHERE: Moldova.

WHEN: Four weeks in August and September.

WHY: Goujon (pronounced goo-ZHAN), an American Sign Language Justin Goujon in Moldovainterpreter, volunteered at a school and orphanage for deaf children in the small Eastern European country, a former Soviet republic. “I went twice before with a group of deaf adults from Grace Chapel in Lexington, Mass., and made friends. This time I went back to work at the orphanage and to visit friends I’d made in Moldova.”

DEAF OUTREACH: “A fellow interpreter mentioned the trip to me the first time, and about the church’s deaf ministry,” said Goujon, who works as an ASL interpreter at Work, Community, Independence in Waltham. “Each time we go we raise our own money, $1,600 each.” Before going the first time, Goujon researched the country. “I’d never heard of it before. It’s bordered by Romania and Ukraine. It’s the poorest country in Europe.”

US ROLE MODELS: At Cahul Hipoacuzi Orphanage, in the city of Cahul, “some children live there year-round and some go to school and go home on weekends. There’s lots of outreach to Moldova from secular and religious groups. But as far as we know, there’s been no one deaf visit the school,” Goujon said. “Sign language is different in different countries, but for them to even see deaf adults from America was the biggest benefit, to see how their lives are here, how they’re educated. Deaf people there don’t have a lot of role models. There are no real services there for them.”

Justin Goujon in MoldovaREADING THE SIGNS: The first time Goujon visited, the interpreting process was cumbersome, with four interpreters involved. “This time we worked the kinks out more. We found a Moldovan who knew ASL and could interpret into Moldovan sign language.” Most younger Moldovans speak Romanian and Russian, as well as some English, while older citizens speak only Russian. “Menus are in both languages, but most street signs are in Romanian,” he said. Although the country is poor, “it depends on where you are,” he said. “The capital, Chisinau, is beautiful, with tons of parks, modern buildings, well-dressed people. There’s a huge disparity between poor and rich.”

MOLDOVAN MARRIAGE: During his visits, Goujon became friends with a Moldovan interpreter and spent several weeks with him. “He’s a university student, and his family is in Chisinau. I timed the visit to go to the wedding of a friend of a friend. It started at 6 p.m. and ended at 6 a.m. in a hall. A smaller church wedding was the following week. There was a huge production of signing the marriage license, with vows and rings. There were traditional dancers and bands all night, and a lot of circle dances, with everyone holding hands.”

AMERICAN IDOLS: Several times Goujon was a guest at a friend’s university English class. “Most of their questions were about American pop culture,” he said. “They think McDonald’s is around every corner and that everyone is fat. Whenever I would meet anyone and say that my name was Justin, everyone would say, ‘Timberlake?’ “


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