Category Archives: Travel stories

Should you really be giving me that little extra, just because I’m Deaf?

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Image: Artwork of a girl standing side-on facing the viewer, with a white rabbit hugged to her chest. She wears a brownish sleeveless top and printed teal bottom patterned with white and red circles. She has prominent red blushed cheeks and long wavy, dark hair tied in a high ponytail. On a background of soft yellow, bordered with green, white and red, is text reading, “Should you really be giving me that bit extra, just because I’m Deaf?” Beneath is written http://www.asphyxia.com.au

When I was travelling in France, my friend Jenine and I went into a bakery. When Jenine ordered, the guy serving us threw in a couple of extra pastries for free. Jenine blinked in astonishment. ‘It must be because you’re with me. I NEVER get freebies.’

I think she was right. You see, I get freebies all the time. Let me tell you about this lovely lady who works at my favourite op shop. The first time I visited, she took a shine to me. Even though she doesn’t normally work the checkout, once I’d selected my purchases, she rang them up for me specially. I almost died when I saw the total price. It was a quarter of what I expected to pay. ‘You ask for me, next time you come in,’ she told me. I do, and every single time I walk out of there loaded up with goodies that I’ve barely paid a cent for.

While this is a somewhat extreme example, I’m prone to getting special treatment everwhere I go. Airports, I am led straight through – I don’t wait in many queues. Discounts are mine for the smile. If I want to use a toilet in a shop and it’s against their policy, they’ll let me use theirs anyway.  Some of my friends know how to work the system. When it’s time to pay, they sends me up the front.

Why do I collect these privileges, when people like Jenine, who are so much kinder, more generous, thoughtful and deserving than I, never get them?

I can only assume it’s because I’m Deaf. People see me signing and feel compelled to go that extra mile for me. A sweet smile just seals the deal. A friend of mine with a Deaf daughter mentioned that her daughter gets free stuff all the time too. So do my other Deaf friends.

My attitude is this: scoop it up. Afterall, I have to put up with the suckier parts of being Deaf. Why not enjoy some benefits too?

But there’s something uneasy for me about all this. Deep down, I suspect that if the people dishing up the freebies to me really knew me, they wouldn’t give me a thing. I’m not as sweet and innocent as I look. I live in fear that they might discover the real me.

I’m also suspicious of what motivates all this giving. The only thing I can really come up with is that they feel sorry for me and want to give something to someone worse off than they are. It’s a laudable idea. We should all do it. But am I really worse off? I mean, there are some serious downsides to being Deaf, but there are some pretty good perks. The ones I’ve mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg. If I could choose, I’d still choose to be Deaf. Really. I don’t know much about my Op Shop Lady, but I’m willing to guess that at that time I had a nicer life than she did. I mean, her life might be great, but she often looked kind of tired and worn down, whereas I normally felt inspired and was lucky enough to have a career that I couldn’t wait to get out of bed in the morning for.

It leads me to think it must be connected to the attitude our society has in general towards Deafness, that it’s a tragedy that must be fixed and helped at all cost. That Deaf people lead impoverished lives and are to be pitied and helped. And you know, this belief system just doesn’t resonate with me. Yes, I want society to change to be more Deaf-accessible, but I dont want people to think my life is awful just because I’m Deaf. Because it’s not.

For much of my life, things have been awesome – I’ve had great jobs, enough money and physical ability to afford to wait in queues and pay a fair price for my shopping and walk a bit further to go to the toilet. It was me who should have been doing the giving.

If you’d like to do your bit to raise awareness about deafness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!

Journaling without working retrospectively

Image: Asphyxia’s personal journal with a collage of her travel photos of herself and her good friend, Jenine, in Paris. There is washi tape and collage with stripes, dots and flowers. Hand-written text on the page describes pâtisseries they’ve eaten. The background is painted with patches of different shades of yellow and aqua. Black and white text says PARIS on the right side of the page and at the bottom is black and yellow text, ‘MÈME PAS PEUR!’ which means, ‘I’m not a bit afraid’.

One of the things I love about my journal is that it’s not just a memory bank. You know the feeling when you have a gazillion photos from a trip and you want to put them somewhere, and you want to make it look fabulous, but you just can’t seem to get around to it so it doesn’t happen? Well my journal is designed to avoid that kind of guilt trip.

Y’see, I hate working retrospectively. I used to write in my journal at night, too tired to make a pretty page, but later I’d be disappointed. There’s my gorgeous book full of colour and beauty, and then you turn the page and there’s nothing but boring black scrawl. So I’d take it into my studio and see what I can do. But it was annoying, because I’d want to get on with my new stuff, with the here and now stuff, not faff around trying to make my old stuff look better.

So I developed a new approach. It’s all about the construction of the book. By making in advance (when I’m inspired, not tired) the kind of book that makes even boring black scrawl look good, I rarely have to go back and fix anything. And right there, on the very night I’ve scribbled my heart out, the page looks fantastic.  Ahh, I sigh… raw, edgy… oh yes, this black scrawl is working for me.

Anyway, that’s one of the techniques I teach in my online art journal e-course, Make The Book Of Your Dreams. Feel free to check it out if you’d like to give it a try.

An interesting couch surfing experience

This year, before I left for my trip, I didn’t lock in all my plans. I made sure I had some places to stay at the start, and then I had a chunk of open time, knowing that I would by flying home from Oslo on a certain date. I thought that this would give me the freedom to follow opportunities that came up, to take suggestions offered by others, and also to do a bit more of what I felt like at the time.

Mostly, this was great. Depending on what I needed (solitude? nature? the city? stimulation?), I organised plans for myself a few days in advance. I was terrified, though, that somewhere along the way this would fall down and I’d end up with nowhere to sleep. But I decided to challenge my terror, and I’m glad I did, because the freedom and flexibility were fabulous.

But, at one point, exactly the thing I’d feared arose. A lovely woman I’d met through couch surfing, who had generously offered me the use of her spare room, texted me at the very last minute to say that she’d had an emergency, was stuck out of town, and wouldn’t be home to host me! What to do? I went back to couch surfing, and there were a bunch of others who had also offered to host me but I had politely turned them down. So I contacted them again, and one, Arne, kindly offered to have me, even though it was really short notice. I wasn’t really planning to stay with men. As a woman travelling alone, I’d figured it would be safer to stick with women hosts. But I wasn’t in a position to be choosy now. Arne seemed like a nice guy, and my experience with Norwegian men in the past has been positive, as they have always been respectful of women and non-sleazy.

Just before we were due to meet, I texted Arne to check his address, suggesting I could walk there, as it was a fairly small town. His reply, ‘No, it’s too far for ladies.’

Hmm.. This was not a good sign. As far as I knew, Norwegians were into walking and ladies would be expected to walk as far as men! I started to feel a bit nervous. When we met at the place he suggested, for him to escort me back to his place on the ‘free bus’, he quickly commandeered both my backpack and my suitcase, leaving me nothing to carry. I thought it was likely he’d offer to take one, but taking both seemed excessive and I felt uncomfortable about that. Especially my backpack, which contained my money and passport, which I really wanted to have on my person. I tried to get it back, but he wasn’t yielding. He wrote in my talking book, (in Norwegian, not English) ‘In Arabic culture the woman should do nothing.’ Oh. So I was not dealing with a Norwegian guy, but a man who identified with an connected with Arabic values. This was not welcome news at all, because while there are many fabulous Arabic men out there, I do find it hard to cope with some of the attitudes towards women, such as, for example, taking my bags from me so I didn’t have control of them any more. I hoped I could trust this guy.

When I wanted to go to the shop, he said, no, he would go. No way was I remaining prisoner in his tiny apartment. So I argued back, insisting emphatically that I needed to take a walk, see a bit of the place, and choose some food to buy. Okay, eventually he decided he would allow that, but he was coming with me. I was getting antsy by now. Maybe I should have just left. But I still didn’t know where to go, and I was a lot further away from the city centre now and not entirely sure how to get the bus back. It had turned out not to be free ‘Just free for you,’ he said, as he let me use his transport card. I was a bit worried that with him giving me all this stuff, beyond a bed to sleep in, he might expect something in return, something sexual.

I nearly flipped out when he showed me the bedroom. Yes, THE bedroom. Two single beds, very close together. ‘This one’s mine,’ he told me, ‘and you can sleep here.’ I needn’t have panicked. When the time came, he took his bedding out to the couch and slept there. I would have been happy to take the couch, but I was so relieved I didn’t say anything. Happily I found a lock on his bedroom door, which I made use of overnight.

Nothing sexual turned out to be required, thankfully, but the next day he started flirting with me, telling me how beautiful I am, and how I didn’t need to leave, I could stay longer and let him give me a better tour of the place… At one point, he wrote, ‘Everyone thinks we are terrorists.’

I answered in Norwegian, ‘That hadn’t crossed my mind. I’ve been too busy worrying you might be a rapist.’ I thought that if I admitted my fears, he might back off a bit and even give me some reassuring signs that this was not his intention. But unfortunately his reply was ‘Well….’ and then he changed the subject. Actually, since Norwegian was not his first language either, I thought later that he hadn’t understood the word for ‘rapist’, but wasn’t the kind of guy who would just ask what I meant. His handling of the conversation reminded me of what I do when I haven’t understood people and don’t feel comfortable to let them know. Anyway, this exchange hardly helped me feel better!

I was a bit alarmed by the way he insisted on being with me, all day, and wouldn’t let me go out by myself. So when a friend of his dropped around, I hastily packed my bag, waved a cheery goodbye, and headed out. It was a good day, full of raspberries and clambering over Norwegian rocks and writing my novel and journal in nature. So it wasn’t all bad. But I couldn’t get rid of the sense that I’d had a lucky escape.

Eventually, after much deliberation because I’d sworn I’d never do this again, I told Arne that he had to stop flirting with me because I was married and my husband wouldn’t like it. I HATE excuses of this kind. They suggest that a man should behave a particular way towards a woman, because she is already owned by another man, rather than because his behaviour makes the woman herself feel uncomfortable. But I thought it would be best not to challenge the status quo and to speak a language he would understand. It worked. He backed off after that.

To be fair, he was a very solicitous host, making me food, sending me off with a packed lunch on the last day, sleeping on the couch so I could have the bedroom alone, escorting me on the bus and so on. It was just my fear that was in the way. If I hadn’t been so afraid, maybe it would have been fine. But the flirting and the fact that I had to fight to be able to go out alone were not good, and the little ways I lacked control, like over my own bag, made me feel very uncomfortable. Still, it ended well and nothing bad happened to me. I think, though, that if I’m in that situation again where there’s only men available on couch surfing, I’ll go to a hostel or budget hotel or shell out for AirBnB instead.

Have you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Learning to knit faster

When I was in Denmark, studying with Julie Arkell, I was very taken with the cardigan she wore. She told me she’d knitted it herself, based on a pattern that my friend Torhild had knitted up. I’m not the only one who fell in love with it, and the pattern has been muched passed around. I got a copy, some wool, and have made a start.

Julie Arkell Cardigan-1

Julie Arkell Cardigan-2

Let me tell you here that I’m not much of a knitter. Despite intermittently knitting something biggish over the years, like a jumper or pair of leggings, I’ve never become very fast or confident. I have repeatedly asked fast knitters if they would share some tips to help me move to the next level, but was told there was no point since I knitted the ‘English way’ rather than the newer ‘European way’. But, I know others who knit the English way and whip up garments. Oh well…

Last year I made the effort to convert to the European way, thanks to a YouTube tutorial. I also taught myself how to knit backwards, so that I can have the right side of the work facing me the whole time, and simply switch the yarn from hand to hand as I knit back and forwards. I really like this way of working – to me that’s less cumbersome than having to turn the piece around with every row, and rearrange it in relation to the ball of yarn.

But I still didn’t become very quick. I had only knitted dolls’ clothes, though. Anyway, I’ve had a breakthrough while working on the cardigan. Just needing to knit a lot has given me the basic practise I needed to help improve my skills with the European way.

Then I noticed something: I was knitting to a certain rhythm. Needle in, pick up wool, pull it through, slip stitch off. Each part took up equal amounts of time. But the bit I was struggling with was aiming the needle right when I put it in. I kept missing, so had to do that part slowly. The rest of the stitch was easy. So I made a conscious effort to change my rhythm: take as much time as I need to put the needle in, then do the remaining steps super-fast in one move. Ah-ha! Magic!

It was kind of weird at first, but that rhythm is working for me now, and my stitches have sped up enormously. I’m also getting better at putting the needle in accurately.

My next challenge is to learn to knit without looking. I CAN, sort of, do it, but I have a tendancy to drop stitches. My cardigan is full of mistakes, thanks to my efforts at trying that. I haven’t got it in me to rip back all the time, so I’m just plowing on and trusting that it’ll be sweet even with its many imperfections.

Do you have any knitting tips to share? If you’re a fast knitter, is there a particular trick that helped you get there?

My favourite food in Norway

Food in Norway-1

I drew this page in my journal to remember the foods I’ve loved the most while in Norway. I am always interested in traditional foods, so wanted to make an effort to try out some old favourites while I was there. However, if you go to a restaurant in Norway, the prices will have Australians falling off their chairs. I paid, get this, AU$60 for a burger! This wasn’t at a posh place. Just at a pub. If I’d wanted a glass of kombucha to go with it, I’d have had to shell out another $15. Gulp.

Luckily, I found other ways to enjoy Norwegian traditional foods. I started by grilling my friend Torhild about the foods she had eaten as a child, that would be available in the supermarket. Then I worked my way through weird packaged foods to try them all out.

One popular dish is kjøttkaker i brun saus (meatballs in gravy). At the supermarket, for around AU$10, you could buy a box for a ready meal, which contained little packages of meat balls, gravy, sour cabbage, and cloudberry jam, which are often eaten with it. I bought some carrots, peas and potatoes, boiled them (Norwegians seem to boil nearly everything), and then added the packaged ingredients. It was delicious. I don’t do packaged foods at home but it was a fabulous and inexpensive way to try really different foods, and to get a real taste of Norway.

I also tried fiskebollar (fish balls) with the same method and loved them. Very different flavours and textures than we eat here in Australia.

I noticed lots of rice and barley porridge in the supermarket, so I bought a packet of ready-made barley porridge and practically inhaled it, it was so delicious. It was unsweetened, just had some salt added. The picture showed some strawberries on top, so I added them. Yum!

I also ate pickled herring, brunost (weirdly sweet Norwegian brown cheese that feels like you’ve filled your mouth with glue), gulost (a mild yellow cheese that seemed to be very popular) and loved them all.

I loved the traditional cultured milk, a mild drinking yoghurt, which was a standard offering in every supermarket. I brought home some of their culture to see if I can make my own.

The best, best thing about Norwegian food was the berries. I ate bucketloads of strawberries and raspberries. You could often find raspberries on the side of the road, for anyone to pick. When I stayed in the tiny seaside town of Tau, the raspberries were so abundant that I could go for a walk and gorge myself upon them until I simply couldn’t eat another. To me, this is a miracle. If only we could do that here!

Beautiful nature in Norway – walking the Preikestolen at Lysefjord

One of the things I wanted to do in Norway was walk up to the Preikestolen on Lysefjord. Preikestolen means ‘pupit rock’ and it’s this huge rock with a flat platfrom that sits 650 metres above sea level, right over a beautiful fjord. So the view from there is amazing. It’s an 8km round trip, and involves a walking up, up, up a mountain.

Preikestolen-1

Given that my health has been pretty dodgy lately and I’ve had very little energy, I’ve become quite unfit. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do the walk. I started, in my somewhat pathetic way, ‘training’ for it by walking more and more each day until I could at least stay on my feet for that many kilometres, even if I didn’t get in any practise with hills.

Before I went, I read this beautiful article in Flow magazine, about a woman who spent 24 hours in nature with no purpose, no plan and no technology. She just followed her intuition, wandered around and looked at stuff. I had this idea that I might try to do the Preikestolen walk with the same idea. Instead of focussing on the path and my achievement, I would listen to my body, rest whenever I needed to, and just wander along the path and enjoy looking at stuff.

I stayed at a hostel at the base of the Preikestolen trail. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe I got to sleep in one of those little grass-roofed huts.

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The walk is incredibly popular with tourists and busloads come in every day, so I decided to go super early, and embarked off at 5.30am (thank you, jetlag!) to miss the crowds. I had the path to myself most of the way which was lovely.

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Here’s what the path looked like much of the way. The first bit was the hardest. My thighs burned and my heart raced and I thought no way would I be fit enough to do this. But by the end of the first steep bit, I was kind of warmed up and my thighs didn’t burn any more. I did have to keep resting though and was really glad not to be doing this walk with anyone else, so I didn’t have to feel embarrassed about how often I paused to look around. Thanks to my commitment to listen to my intuition, I embraced my frequent stops and enjoyed taking in the beautiful nature.

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After the second steep bit, I was gaining confidence. My thighs and feet were holding out, and I made an effort to walk confidently and quickly as I went up. But it was such a relief to find an easy wooden path like this one.

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The flatter bits were really lovely. I still had to concentrate to walk carefully and not twist my ankle on those stones. It was definitely and eye-to-the-ground kind of walk, so my regular pauses to look around were a good way to take in the actual nature.

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Once I’d conqured the third and hardest steep bit, I came to this beautiful waterhole, and I figured that was a good place for breakfast and to take a real break. I’d brought berries and creme fraiche, and packed some cheese, and raw vegies to nibble on.

It was an idyllic place to rest, and I would have liked to really settle in, do some knitting and let my body recover, but it was incredibly cold. At this point, if I’m honest, my body was spent. Listening to my intuition, I would have had to turn around and go home. Also, even though I’d done most of the climbing, I was only a bit more than half way to the top, so there was a lot ahead of me. But it was all gentler stuff and I really really wanted to see the top. I had to make a decision to follow my body, or my goal to get to the top. The goal won out. So much for connecting with my inner nature! I decided to grit my teeth and continue.

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I’m glad I did, because then I came to my favourite place of the whole walk – this very lovely water hole with rocks on the far side that just spoke to me. Again I tried to stop here for a while but it was just too cold to stay more than a few minutes. I needed to walk to keep warm.

Walked for ages up a steep smoother bit of rock. At this stage it was just a matter of gritting my teeth and saying it wasn’t far now. It would have felt anti-climactic to turn around and go home at this point!

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The last bit of path was precarious indeed. It’s probably a good thing I couldn’t see all the way down to the fjord.

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Finally, my destination. Though as you can tell, the clouds made it pretty hard to see anything.
Yep, from on the the pulpit rock, all I could see was white. Bummer. All that way….! But I’m still glad I did it. It feels like a potent lesson in life being about the journey, rather than the destination. I was glad, again, that I’d stopped so often to enjoy on the way up.

I emptied out my backpack so I could lie on it for a bit, rested for about 45 minutes, then I couldn’t bear the cold any more so headed home. I decided to just walk fast and get it over with. In many ways I was more present for the trip home because I wasn’t so daunted! I could kind of enjoy it more. But the steep bits really did my legs in and by half way my feet, ankles, calves and thighs just plain hurt.

Afterwards, my calves hurt like nothing else, but my feet, ankles, knees and thighs were fine. Phew. I’m glad I did it, especially for the bit where I got to enjoy the beautiful waterholes. But I wished I could have rested more to appreciate the nature along the way. My original plan of wandering and following my intuition was out of the question. This was a grit-your-teeth kind of walk for me. But I felt satisfied, and full up of beautiful Norway. I’ll have to do the nature-wander another time.

Hi, I’m back

Hi, I’m back from Denmark and Norway! I had an amazing cyberbreak, though I have lurked here occasionally, and I’ve filled up on beautiful Norwegian nature and food. In Denmark I studied more papier mache magic with Julie Arkell and I learnt how to knit a onesie for a small figure.

My knitting has improved vastly, thanks to a cute cardigan that Julie was wearing during the course. Several of us coveted it, and it turned out that Julie herself had knitted it based on a pattern my friend Torhild had knitted up. The pattern has been passed around and I’m not the only one who’s knitting it right now.

And now I’m home, back to my beautiful family who I missed more than I expected. I’m committed to appreciating them anew, which is a good thing, because often all I want is to be alone! I’ve had a fabulous fill of aloneness and am ready to embrace my people. It’s good.

I’ll post a few travel stories soon… but in the meantime, I just wanted to say that my studio will be open this Sunday, as part of an Open Studios Trail at the Abbotsford Convent from 12pm to 3pm. If you’d like to come along and see what I’ve been working on, I’d love to see you there.

Entry into my studio is free, but here’s a small fee if you want to participate in the full tour at the Abbotsford Convent. You can book that here:

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/abbotsford-convent-tickets-26262765639

Where to find me:
Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Helier’s St, Abbotsford
Enter via GATE 2, and follow the signs to the Mercator building, then you’ll see signs with my name on it directing you to my studio.

Ciao!

I’m outta here folks. My bags are packed, I’ve got a plane to catch, and I’m getting ready to journal on the plane.

New journal cover-1

This is my new journal. I always think of my journal as my best friend, so I like to paint a face on it to give her personality. This girl is going to be my travel companion. I’m really happy with how she turned out. Yep I’m ready to go flying with this girl!

Anyways, wish me luck. For those of you who are enjoying my Auslan course, my assistant will continue to post the lessons while I’m away. Otherwise though, I’m heading offline. See you in August, hopefully with travel stories and inspiration to share.

Ciao!

International travel as a Deaf person

I thought I’d write a post about my experiences with international travel as a Deaf person. I find it surprising, how very different it feels to be Deaf in different places. Culture changes everything.

My favourite Deaf travel story

Let me start with my favourite Deaf travel story… I was travelling with my partner Paula, and as we checked in they figured out I was Deaf. There was some kerfuffle but we were released into the wilds of the airport. As we waited at the gate, Paula nudged me and told me. “There’s an announcement over the loudspeaker. Can all Deaf people and parents with children please come to the gate now to board first.” As you’d expect, there was a flurry of parents and kids heading to the gate. But strangely enough… no Deaf people.

This announcement highlights something I encounter over and over again. Well-meaning people who attempt to cater for my needs, but who haven’t actually thought about what it means to be Deaf.

A first encounter with Deafness

Let me tell you about Joe, who I met in a shop in France. He said something to me, which I didn’t understand, and my friend Jenine explained to him that I’m Deaf. No worries. Conversation with Jenine goes on. He asked her how we were enjoying the music festival.

She explained that actually we weren’t attending the music festival. “But why not? It’s free. You should go to the concert tonight.”

“Well Asphyxia can’t hear it.”

This hit Joe hard. Hand to his heart, sorrow on his face. He turned to me. “You can’t hear MUSIC?! But what is life without music?” (Or something.. the facial expression said it all – I didn’t catch his words.)

I shrugged. “It’s ok. I’m happy as it is.”

Then Joe has a deep idea. “You know, you could get a bionic ear. Have you thought about that? Then you could hear music.”

Let’s just pause here for a moment. Does Joe really believe I’ve gone my entire life, without it occurring to me until now, that the bionic ear (or a cochlear implant) is a possibility? Does he really think that now he’s suggested it, I’m going to go home and look into the idea? And, for that matter, does he think he’s the first to come up with such wisdom?

In fact, this is something I find intensely irritating, the need to discuss, regularly, with perfect strangers, the intimate details of what operations I might choose to have. I have, in the past, explained to people like Joe, that actually, a cochlear implant or bionic ear would do nothing for me since my ears work fine. It’s the nerves connecting my ears to my brain that don’t work. Which means I’d need a nerve implant in my brain. Forget it – I ain’t letting any surgeon poke around in there. But I’m sick and tired of explaining my medical situation to strangers.

My friend Anna came up with a marvellous response:

“Have you thought about having botox? I feel it would really help your situation.”

But sadly I can’t bring myself to use it. Joe meant well. He just hadn’t thought about Deafness before and I had the great joy of participating while he had his first, elementary encounter with the concept.

Yeah, so that’s Joe, in France. There’s Joes all over Australia too – I meet them all the time. It may well have been a Joe who made that announcement over the loudspeaker at the boarding gate.

Being Deaf in Norway and Denmark

Contrast that with my experience in Norway and Denmark. For the first time ever in my life, I was actually treated like a normal person. I found out recently that in Norway they teach the finer points of knitting and yarn management in schools. I reckon they must also do a unit or two on Deafness, because they seem to know that:

a) being Deaf does not mean you are stupid

b) rather than expecting Deaf people to lipread you so you can carry on as normal, you should attempt to communicate in a more visual way, such as through mime or writing

c) you don’t need to apologise to anyone for their Deafness, nor discuss their medical needs, nor even make a big deal about it at all.

The response, when I told a person in Denmark or Norway that I was Deaf was “Oh, right.” They’d then grab a piece of paper and write to me, or else point and mime to clarify whatever we were attempting to communicate about. And nothing was a big deal. I didn’t need to witness anyone’s heartbreak that I can’t hear the birds twittering or the free piano concert.

The finer points of Deafness seem to be common knowledge

In fact, even the finer points of Deafness seemed to be common knowledge. When I arrived to stay with my AirBnB host, she was already aware that Deaf people don’t tend to know how much noise they make. (Paula is always complaining about how loud I am in the kitchen, or how I inadvertently slam doors – because I can’t hear myself to self-monitor.) Daisy’s tour of her apartment, as she showed me how to use the shower and how to jiggle the key just so, included a recommendation that I not rustle the cutlery in the drawer as it’s particularly loud, and there’s a certain door that is very noisy so I should make the effort to close it quietly.

Wow. I’ve never met a person in Australia with that much awareness, other than those within the Deaf community. What was even more astounding is that Daisy did not proceed to tell me how she acquired her knowledge of Deafness. She didn’t say that she’d once had a Deaf guest who was incredibly noisy, nor that her mum’s second cousin can’t hear. The Deaf thing was just something to be dealt with along with everything else. Unremarkable. What a bloody relief.

Don’t expect me to lipread

In fact, I didn’t realise how much of a relief it was, until I landed in France, which is much more like Australia when it comes to responding to Deaf people. Whenever I told someone I was Deaf they’d point to their lips and expect me to lipread. When I made it clear I hadn’t a hope in hell of lipreading French, that was the end of the conversation. Well, from my end it was. From their end it was far from over. They proceeded to speak to me in French, at full speed, often turning away without making eye contact, and somehow presumed I’d understand.

The eye contact was appalling. I often communicate with a mix of mime and body language, but getting the French people to look at me so I could do so was quite a headache.

Talk to ME! (Not my companion)

At one point, Jenine was talking to our AirBnB host in France, and I had a question. Rather than put Jenine in the position where she had to ask the question on my behalf, I wrote it down on a piece of paper. I waited for what I hoped was an appropriate pause in the conversation, hoping I could catch the host before she turned away. Eventually I handed her the piece of paper with my question.

Her response? Even though I had a pen handy so she could write back, she didn’t even look at me. She simply made her reply to Jenine. They talked for a bit and then the host left.
What the fuck? Jenine did her best to explain. I find this so rude. What if I had had a follow up question? Why couldn’t the woman have communicated directly with me? It was around this time I gave up trying to communicate effectively in France, and started to assume I would just be ignored, which was mostly the case.

Being Deaf can be ‘special’

When I travelled to Morocco, it was different again. At that time I was with my partner, Paula. I’ve been told that there’s a Muslim belief that if you are born with a disability, then you are closer to God. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. But a lot of people liked to touch me, for good luck. Rather than being ignored, I was special. Red carpet and VIP treatment. Everyone assumed that Paula was my carer, travelling with me simply to serve me. And apparently it was natural that, as my ‘carer’ she would have to sleep in the same bed as me. Presumably to minister to my needs 24/7. Wow. If I haggled at the markets, I got the best price. Even if I didn’t, I’d be given something for free.

The freebies are nice, I’ll grant that. So are the low prices (I get both of these to an extent in Australia too). But what I liked best of all, by a long, long shot, was that little taste of just being an ordinary person in Norway and Denmark. That was good, SO GOOD, I could almost cry thinking about it.

How to improve the situation

And that leads me to think, how good it would be, here in Australia, if we were to have a unit on Deafnes, and on other disabilities too, as part of our school curriculum. Or even better, if we had teachers out there who modelled all sorts of diversity, so that students could see and experience for themselves that actually, we ARE just ordinary people, and in many cases, our Deafness or disability is not even the most remarkable thing about us.

I do teach a lecture on this at Melbourne Uni, and I love it because I know that those students, who will shortly be teachers, will go out into the world ready to respond more appropriately if they meet a Deaf person, or a Deaf student walks into their classroom. But we need more than this. We need this stuff to be taught to everyone. It doesn’t take long. One lesson is enough to get the Joes of the world thinking so that they are ready when a Deaf person enters their shop.