I still recall with vivid freshness the rather opinionated and combative stance with which I approached debates within the deaf community in those early days of my entrance. I had come in with this dangerously preconceived notion that much of my unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life could be traced to my deafness and society’s seeming nonchalant attitude. I was damn wrong, and the deaf community was instrumental in jolting me to reality.
Now, I wouldn’t say I have been weaned off that proclivity to a mind of my own. A man must hold convictions of his own. Still, neither am I as unyielding as in those early days. It’s been about learning, unlearning and relearning.
I remember too, with undimmed clarity, three sublime piece of advice received from those who have gone before in deafhood.
“Attitude is everything”, mentored Mr. Bola Omopariola – and amplified by good friend, Abubakar Ismail (aka The Seeker).
“Alex, learn sign language… it will open doors for you”, thus admonished the scrupulous Olawale Alade Esq.
Lastly, from Deaconess Adedoyin (deafhood’s number one Amazon) came the gilt-edged words, “keep an open mind”. Pristine admonitions? Yes! But it took some years before I started grasping the timelessness of those gems of wisdom. Slowly, steadily, the truth bore home. Now, I’d be quick to add that there’s no arriving in this unending transformational process I call the “Deaf odyssey”. Thus I’ve continued to learn.
SEEING THE LIGHT
Oyo was my baptism ground. There, I had first glimpse of the light and the burdens of my heart gradually rolled away (apologies to Isaac Watts). At Oyo I slowly came to an understanding (in practical terms) that life could be meaningful and interesting despite deafness. It came down to attitude. Mr Omopariola was correct. Again, Oyo opportuned me the privilege of a miracle called “sign language”. A miracle I had long despised until it graciously found and rescued me from my wilderness wanderings. As I gained intellection, latitude, and a certain degree of dexterity in this liberating phenomenon, the scope of my perception kept expanding. I now see opportunities where before only obstacles existed. However, there remains much work to be done in terms of seizing these. I’m glad I heeded the advice to learn sign language. Again, at Oyo, as I encountered in real time, people, events, and circumstances which challenged my preconceived notions and myths about living with hearing loss, I realized what great disservice I’d be doing myself and humanity by failing to keep an open mind. This was imperative to seeing the silver-linings of this subtle disability.
Now, I’d be realistic and not try to paint a romantic portrait of being deaf. Sure, the experience comes with more crosses than may be readily wished away. The key lies in learning to focus on the sunny side – an art that requires enlightenment and plus attitudes. With these deafhood will be better able to appreciate and appropriate their blessings while ameliorating their burdens.
Below, I narrate the beautiful experience which inspired this piece.
AN AFTERNOON WITH BLESSING ONEBUNNE
We sat on the cool, breezy verandah of one of the blocks of classrooms at her place of work (Community Primary Sch, inclusive unit) on that sweltering Tuesday afternoon happily chatting away. Blessing was a lady friend from our days at FCES, Oyo. I met her through another friend towards the tail end of her final year in 2018. The rapport was swift – almost instantaneous. She was dark-skinned and attractively beautiful in it. Slender, petite built, her rather small face bore large, oval eyes, conspicuously pointed nose and naïve, charming smiles which reveal a fine set of tiny dentition. Her facial and body features blended superbly to accentuate that natural appeal to the other gender. Needless to say, I was wowed by this winsome deaf lady.
But what impressed me most about Blessing was the amiable and easy going aura about her. Being deaf and without speech never seemed to bother, nor crease her countenance – talk about the triumph of attitude over circumstances!
And so our reunion that afternoon in metro-Lagos, far away from rustic Oyo came with palpable excitement. The last we saw was some two or three years ago (the heart grows fonder in absence). Old memories from college were rehashed. We threw hilarious jokes and laughed heartily. Every bit of the moment was savoured. Then, it was time to part. The generous soul that she is, Blessing offered to walk me to the main road and get some light refreshments.
MARKETING THE DEAF BRAND
As we headed towards the gate, we drew curious gazes every now and then. A deaf pair, a beautiful deaf lady and a young man – chatting away in an odd language of moving hands and random facial expressions certainly wasn’t a common sight in this community. “A cool pair of deaf love birds”, these stereotypes must have concluded. Anyway, I was enjoying the special attention, give or take. Mulling it over, it still amazes me that just a few years back, I wouldn’t be caught napping unabashedly identifying as deaf by signing in public. What metamorphosis! Talk about keeping an open mind and learning sign language.
At the kiosk where we got some snacks and drinks, we struck instant friendships – thanks to this beautiful deaf girl with a great attitude and well at home with her language. The kind of enthusiastic service given us for no other reason than branding our deafness with elan was awesome! It so turned out that we didn’t have to pay a dime courtesy of this guy who stubbornly insisted on picking our bill. Everything about his reactions, from a transfixed gaze to mesmerized expressions and animated efforts to kick-start a conversation with this deaf model standing right before him gave him off as encountering for the first time a combination of deafness with good looks, polite behavior, and cheerful demeanor. Of course, I wasn’t surprised when he and the lady attendant complimented Blessing’s beauty to her gracious acknowledgement. So much for branding.
As we bade each other goodbye that day, my contemplative mind went to work seeking to make meaning of this experience of living with deafness in a predominantly hearing community. I came away with the conviction that it hasn’t been all discrimination. My philosophical penchant opted to dwell on the many potentials inherent in maintaining a positive attitude, keeping an open mind, and projecting our language with confident elan as we trudge along with the crosses we bear.
Yes, being deaf comes with more silver linings than are readily apparent.