It’s just another day on my very busy route and I make my way across town to a very large high rise apartment complex. There’s really nothing unique (well almost nothing) about the building itself and the roaches and mice scurry in between the walls back and forth just as they do in any of the other 1000’s of similar buildings I’ve done. I use the same techniques, the same chemicals and struggle with the same challenges of sanitation, exclusion and education I always do but this building in particular was with all it’s similarities, completely different and much more demanding than all of the regular buildings combined.
Checking in I always had a log with special concerns (complaints) to go along with the regularly scheduled units. The ‘super’ liked me and just gave me my badge and let me have at it even though he was suppose to come along. He was a very busy man and he liked how I handled myself and said “if I could keep his people happy, then he was happy with me.” I almost always started at the highest floor and worked my way down and though the elevator might be filled with residents it was always a quiet ride. Coming to my first apartment I’d push the button to signal my arrival but never once would hear the occupants inside saying “come in or who is it?” the way one would expect. In fact the door bell made no sound at all but rather simply triggered a light inside. Many times I just had to wait not knowing if they were home or not and using the excuse ‘no one answered the door’ would never wash in this place. Once inside the apartment my seemingly normal job took a big twist and although no words were ever spoken I soon learned the value of communication and a lot about some people I might not have ever given the time to before and a lot about myself.
The entire apartment complex was for people who could not hear or speak and at first it was very difficult to treat their homes because Icould not understand what they were trying to communicate. They tried to mouth the words and their hands went a mile a minute with sign language to one another but I felt like a foreigner from a far away land. My first few visits were frustrating because as it is with anybody, they had preferences of where they might not want spraying or tried to tell me where they saw a bug but I wasn’t getting it. Their guttural moans always made me feel like I was doing something terribly wrong and at times they smacked their lips with the back of their hand or raked their hands up their bellies with an annoyed look on their face which told me I was close to stepping over a line. I must admit this was a little unnerving and I thought these people had bigger problems than I’d ever wish upon anyone and I was frustrated that my usual excellent skill with talking to customers was now my biggest hinderance.
The super was a really nice guy and pulled me aside one day and showed me a few signs that helped turn everything around. I already guessed what the belly rub was and he laughed and said as long as it’s not just one hand that goes all the way to the forehead you’ll be alright. He showed me the the sign for bug and for mouse, thank you and show me and some others that sadly I’ve long since forgotten. This was so great and opened up a whole other world to me and my service immediately got better. What’s more it alleviated my customers frustrations and now I was getting smiles and even laughter when I would attempt to sign something which I’m sure made no sense.
Most importantly, I was able to shake off my fears and judgments and see these folks for who they were, PEOPLE. Just folks enjoying life and getting by like anybody else with many of the same problems, set backs and challenges that we all have. Sure some might say they had a tougher hill to climb but after awhile I couldn’t tell you that at all. These were truly happy people and some of the best customers I ever had. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves nor look for any special treatment and if anything I felt disadvantaged for not being fluent enough to get to know them better. I was able to rejoice with them in births of babies, graduations, jobs and even the satisfaction of finally ridding their homes of pests. I was very sad when I learned I was transferring to another route and would no longer be seeing these great people on aregular basis. The last sign I learned is what most who knew I was going gave to me as they said goodbye and I eagerly gave it back. With BOTH palms toward your face you extend your hands forward in a mini semi circle way as if blowing a kiss. This was the sign of ‘thankful’ and it’s exactly the way I felt for my time with all of them.