Timina Wasike: Serving vibes to the impaired

Wasike signing a song during the launch of the ObaFest. She says when she comes on stage, she makes sure that her deaf clients are having a really good time too. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • Signage entertainer: Last Sunday during the first edition of the Bell ObaFest, one performer caught our eyes. Everyone first mistook her for a ‘vixen’ but then we saw her dancing while at the same time signing. In fact, when screens captured her facial and hand expressions, many people in the audience were seen laughing. What they did not know was that Timina Wasike was on job. With the headlines she made, Isaac Ssejjombwe sought her out for a chat.   

Who is Timina Wasike?
I am a selfless, open-minded individual who is always up for new things, adventure and I love being around spirited people who are happy, loving and have an impact on others.  

Last Sunday, you spent most of the time on the ObaFest stage. Tell us how you got up there?
I am a sign language interpreter under the umbrella organisation of Uganda National Association for Sign Language Interpreters which heads all interpreters in Uganda. As a registered member, I always take the lead to raise the bar high for visibility as sign language interpreters and my niche is mainly in the entertainment field. So at this particular event, we were hired as five interpreters through Life for the World, which does advocacy for persons with disabilities. We were hired to ease the communication and information dissemination while at festivals.  

Was this the first time you were doing sign language at such an event?
This was the first time I was interpreting at an event of such magnitude, in terms of people. Otherwise we have interpreted at weddings, workshops.

With your movement on stage and energy, many thought you had had a lot to drink. Is this so?
Apparently, we were celebrating beer and East African culture. However, when I got to the event at 9am doing preparations and all that, I did not drink any alcohol because at the end of the day I was representing an organisation. I was only taking water to hydrate.     

You looked like you were having the best time of your life. Where do you draw the line between working and having fun at an event?
We always say, ‘Celebrate life everyday’. It is true I was having the time of my life. I have heard of the five minute conversation in an elevator and that is what I do. When I come on stage, I act as a professional. I interpret what needs to be interpreted. I make sure that my deaf clients are having a really good time too. It was entertainment and that calls for a happy soul and I was just that on the stage. Show the emotions that come along with music and enjoy.  

Unlike TV, events or shows move faster. Do you reach a point where you cannot cope with what the DJ, artiste or emcee is saying?
On that stage, I was with Deedan and Sammy and we were talking concurrently and the DJs were playing music. There was a time it was all coming in so fast and you lose the lines as you are interpreting.

Wasike signing a song during the launch of the ObaFest. She says when she comes on stage, she makes sure that her deaf clients are having a really good time too. Photo/Courtesy

How do you recover from all that?
What you need to do is dance. I had prepped earlier, mastered all the artistes’ music for those that were coming on stage. All in all if a deejay goes fast, you also go fast and try to catch up.

And what did you do with the Kenyan and Tanzanian performers?
Truth is I do not know much Swahili but there are bits that I can add up, so I was able to interprete.   

Some people felt like you were exaggerating some of the signs on that stage. Is this so?
No. I was signing the emotions evoked in the songs. Let me give you an example, there was a time I was signing one of Azawi’s songs Majje, of course the emotions had to come in, I am going out there to hustle just like a military person. I, however, understand where that feeling of exaggeration comes in; for example on Messach Semakula’s song, Sigwe Ansimila, you would think I was overdoing things but I brought it as it was supposed to be done.  

Do you think this strategy of sign interpretation at events has any impact?
Of course. It creates awareness that people with hearing impairment do exist in our communities and at the end of the day, the information that is brought out there, they need to be part of it because they are also consumers. It creates awareness, advocacy and a platform for us to network. You never know. This was a very remarkable thing to do and I hope other event organisers can emulate such an example.   

How long can you last on that stage?
Music is my thing. I can even do two hours non-stop dancing, signing and bringing out what the artiste wants to bring across but it also depends because I love upbeat music. I can dance from one part of the stage to the other.

Do you enjoy what you are doing?
Definitely. I really enjoy signing. I remember in 2013, they used to tell us when you find a billboard, please sign it, figure spell it. I am proud to be a sign user and I tell my other interpreters that I am raising the flag high even to the communities. I am making my mother proud.

How long have you been doing sign language?
Since 2014.

What are your charges for such a gig?
We do not have a fixed price. We are open to negotiations. We charge from Shs500,000 and beyond, depending on the type of gig.

Would you say it is a well-paying job?
Of course there are highs and lows in every profession so there are times when you hit a deal and they pay you handsomely and then other times you are paid just to support you and then there are also times when you do it for free to be paid in the future.

Roughly, how much do you earn from it?
I cannot really say because it depends on the organisation that is bringing you on board. However, there are times when you need to go into negotiations. We know the Ugandan government has not put a salary wage for the employed so you cannot really state how much you are supposed to be paid, so the payment varies on who is employing you, where and what activities you are doing.

Did you study sign language interpretation?
Yes I did. I applied to do a Diploma in sign language interpreting at Kyambogo University, so I have been in the field since then.
Having a background of people with hearing impairment in our family pushed me to do this. My mother has been deaf since she was eight years old. She lost her hearing when she tried bursting a balloon so that air could pass from one ear to the other, affecting her eardrums.  When she was taken to Kenya by my grandfather, the doctor asked her which ear was affected but at the end of the treatment, the other ear was affected too. My step father is also deaf, so sign language was the first language we learnt at home. My siblings and I and even my children know sign language.

What was the beginning like for you?
It was not really hard because I am an open-minded and loud person. I can even stand in a big crowd and speak to people. Having gone through this whole thing at a young age, I was never troubled.    

How long does it take for someone to learn sign language?
It does not take a whole lot of time because it is like learning a foreign language. All you need to do is be around people who do sign language, especially because it is visually motivated as long as the passion is there.   

What challenges are you facing doing this?
There are not so many challenges because I love music. If I could enjoy that moment, why would not I evoke the same feeling for someone else who is not able to listen like I do and at the end of it all, create awareness.  

Besides this, are you doing anything else?
I am a sign language interpreter with the Norwegian Refugee Council, I also do tailoring and I made the dress I wore at the event on Sunday.

Tell us more about yourself.
I am a mother of two. I went to Nakasero Primary School, Kisaasi College for both my O and A-Level and then joined Kyambogo University and I am currently pursuing a Bachelors in Community-based Rehabilitation. My father, Alfred Wasike lives in Kenya and my mother is Annette Achan but I grew up mostly with my grandfather Michael Ojora.