Ralph Waldo Emerson
Signed conversation with my students:
Student: So you flew in a plane from America?
Multiple Students: Were you scared?
Me: No, it’s safe.
Student: But the hippos!
Me: Sign again, did you just sign hippo?
Multiple Students: Yes, yes, hippo!
Me: Why would I be scared of a hippo on a plane?
Student : Because when your sitting on the plane, you look out the window and you fall out and a hippo eats you.
Me: Maybe I should be scared of flying!
This conversation is ten times better in sign form, because Deaf students use so much imagination, and facial expressions, their stories are just better signed!
I was once told that as a volunteer I would experience the highest highs, and the lowest lows. I couldn’t really understand what this meant until now. Some days I feel so engulfed with happiness, I think I even sleep with a smile, other days the challenges here can be overwhelming. There is the constant loneliness, the need for acceptance, and the extreme amount of patience with people. My school is quite isolated, so I do not have a “village” to integrate into. All the teacher speak English but prefer to use “mother tongue”, which is not a written language, leaving me in silence most of the time.
It is not the easiest when people are constantly seeing you as an outsider; although this concept is not a foreign one to me it was never as outwardly spoken. Even my town visits are not without screams of “mzungu” “sister, marry me” “give me money” “buy me sweets” and my favorite “ hey white”. I can feel this constant gnaw of irritation, and when I feel it begin to bubble up, I just can’t help but laugh. I’m sorry, “hey white” that is funny to me, and ultimately I know (most) of these people do not know they are annoying me, in fact they are just amused by my presence. Who knows if my I was born in Embu, Kenya and rarely saw a person with a different skin color, I too may want to yell and try to get their attention--then again maybe not, but I can see where they come from.
I think what I am realizing about my experience is not what I experience here, but rather how I choose to experience it. I could turn inward, and think every Kenyan who talks to me wants something, or I can go out there every time having hope that people are mostly good. I have to say for every time I’ve had someone ask for money, I’ve had someone show me great kindness. I try to hold onto those moments in my head when I feel so much like an outsider that I would like to run and hide! Ultimately I have to choose the person I want to be, and I want to be a person who thinks the best of people and who can laugh (instead of hiding).
This week a girl came to school, she is around 9 –years-old, she recently contracted meningitis and became Deaf. She is far from her family and friends, adapting to a whole new and scary world. She must adjust and find her “new normal”. I know eventually she will make great friends here, they will become like family, and she will be happy. I think somewhere deep inside she knows it too. At sports time, she sat alone against a tree--I walked up slowly and tried to sign how are you, but stopped when I realized she wouldn’t understand me. She looked up at me her eyes deep pools of black, tears welled in her eyes, and for some reason mine did the same, I smiled—she reached up and held my hand. I know we will be ok.