South African beauty in Miss Deaf World

Words: Simone Botha | Photos: Colene Burger & Macciani © 2013 | Video: Atelier77cz

The Czech Republic’s Prague is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities to gaze upon, and this glorious, golden city proved to be the perfect setting for the Miss Deaf World (MDW) pageant. Held on Saturday, 13 July 2013, I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to proudly represent my country.

As I touched down in Prague, I couldn’t wait to meet and find out more about the 42 other beautiful deaf ladies from across the globe, and I was curious to see how we would communicate, as there is no universal sign language. I am not a frequent sign-language user, as I didn't learn it growing up, so Narda Els, founder of the Miss Deaf South Africa (MDSA) pageant, helped me to become comfortable with using sign language.

Let me paint this amusing picture for you: Imagine the MDW organiser, Josef, in front of the conference room, the competitors on opposite sides of the room, and their chaperones at the far back. Josef cannot speak English or use sign language. He can only speak Czech and had to make use of five different interpreters to interpret what he was saying aloud and in Czech.

On the first day, I thought that as the only competitor who does not really make use of sign language, I would be the sole lost sheep. However, I quickly learnt that almost half of the girls did not understand the interpreters. Some of them were even worse off than I was, as they did not have the support of a chaperone as I did or if they did, the chaperone did not know what was being said either. Luckily, my chaperone, my German-speaking super mom, was able to gather valuable information from Miss Deaf Germany’s chaperone, Arne. He is also deaf, but understands Czech sign language and speaks German. In turn, my mom could translate what he said into English for all the English speakers and for those who could or tried to understand English. It really was quite hilarious and reminded me of the telephone game, where you sit in a circle and whisper what you thought you heard from the previous person into the next person’s ear, only to get it wrong. Just two voices could be heard in an otherwise dead-silent conference room; Josef’s loud voice in Czech and Arne’s soft interpretations in German at the back of the room.

The first day also proved to be quite a shock to my poor brain, as I had a whirlpool of new signs that needed to be stored and retained in my memory for use the next day. But I enjoyed the fact that all the contestants tried to reach out to each other, however strained the communication may have been at first. It was all worthwhile in the end, as we learnt about each other’s countries, languages, and cultures and the contestants were especially eager to learn about our beautiful country.

The following day, my understanding and application of these strange signs vastly improved and I was already going at it like a natural. My signing improved so quickly that I was able to do a Slovakian TV interview in sign language towards the end of my seven-day stay in Prague.

The strangest question I was asked by my fellow competitors about South Africa was, “If you’re Miss Deaf South Africa, then how come you are white?” So I answered their question with one of my own, “If Miss Deaf Holland is from Holland, then why is she black?” This seemed to answer their question and resulted in a good laugh.

One of the highlights of the week was the Miss Deaf World Fashion Show. The fashion show was held in the Lucerna Theatre, situated in the glorious old part of Prague. Prague is one of the very few cities that was left untouched during the Second World War, which explains its magnificent beauty and the hold it has upon the many tourists that flock to this city all through the year. The purpose of the fashion show was to showcase a variety of fashions from across global borders, as well as give local Prague designers the opportunity to show off their latest designs. I was one of a lucky few to be chosen to model one of the local designer’s dresses, and I also had the opportunity to show the fashion world my Bedazzled Boutique sponsored ball gown. The sleek, elegant baroque black and gold ball gown dazzled as the paparazzi’s cameras threw light upon this beautiful creation, and the dress proved to be a crowd favourite.

The rest of the week saw us hard at work in preparation for the Gala evening, so we didn’t get to see much of Prague during these practice days. The evening that we were all anxiously waiting for finally arrived and the adrenaline shot through the roof. The last stage placings were made, changes finalised, and chaotic spurges were present too. Miss Deaf Latvia had to be rushed to hospital on the morning of the competition and had us all worried. We did not know whether she was going to be able to compete or not. Thankfully, she was well enough by the evening and we could change our modelling sequences back to normal. But what is a beauty pageant without a little drama?

As the pageant got underway, there were different sections we had to model - swimwear, cocktail dresses, and evening wear - and present our talents. I couldn’t wait to show the judges what I do best; dance. My dance choreography had an African-contemporary feel, with my costume representing the Ndebele tribe of South Africa. Devon Marshbank was behind the creation of my music video, which embodied our country’s diversity and beauty. I also used Nelson Mandela’s voice in parts of my choice of song, “Bring Him Back Home” by Hugh Masekela. I thought it a fitting choice, as Madiba is loved by many across the globe. It was during the pageant when the world held its breath, awaiting news of Madiba’s condition in hospital. My dance was a tribute to Nelson Mandela and I danced my proud South African heart all out! It was a wonderful evening and the top three places were as follows: the beautiful Miss Deaf Brazil was crowned as our new Miss Deaf World, with Miss Deaf Lovakia as the first Princess, and Miss Deaf France as the second Princess. I came sixth out of 43 countries.

For me, the pageant was not about winning, but rather learning from each other. I am extremely grateful to have met so many different and wonderful people from around the world. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always cherish, as I fulfilled my goal to go full out, be myself, and build bridges across borders.

I would like to thank my sponsors: Bedazzled Boutique, Home Corp, Ben’s Pharmacy, Playboy, Be An Angel Network, Caring Hands Foundation, Oos Rand Stereo, and Devon Marshbank. They made my journey to Prague possible.