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City of Banjul
Friday, June 21, 2024

I can’t hear you!

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With Aicha

For a person who has lost or impaired his hearing somehow, it can take long to accept that and learn to live with it. The pace of our society is fast, we get inputs everywhere, people speak fast and a stroll on a sidewalk can be a matter of discouragement for one who can’t hear people or traffic approaching you. It is hard to participate in a conversation or a debate when the sound comes from different directions all the time. Some sounds are harder to hear than others. A young person with a high pitch voice or a shy person with a low voice can become almost impossible to hear. Eye contact is necessary and the possibility to read the lips of the speaker can be very helpful. I have written about body language before and that body language is about 65 to 75 % of the message. This means that a person with a hearing disability will be much helped by seeing the mimics and gestures of the speaker. It doesn’t help to raise the voice, become upset or speak faster – it only makes it more difficult to hear what you are saying.

I have a family member who damaged his hearing at a young age. By that time, no one spoke about security and ear protection, they didn’t have any equipment for protecting one’s ears at the work place. Every day he had to put up with a strong noise from a machine and after some years some members of the family could notice that he didn’t hear well anymore. This was a source of irritation until we understood what was the problem.

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We thought before that he didn’t care about listening, that he didn’t focus on what someone tells him and so on. When we finally realised that it wasn’t his fault, it was his hearing that was damaged, we felt so guilty! All the irritation over the years for nothing!
Many years ago, I studied at a university in a town in the middle of Sweden to become a music teacher. This town had a special school for deaf kids and it was common to see them signing with each other everywhere. Something that was really fascinating was that the kids in buses on opposite sides of the street could speak with each other through the closed windows by sign language. Something that was impossible for us, hearing, was possible for them. Isn’t it always like that – something that is impossible for me is possible for you – if you see your possibilities?
Humans have five senses: eyesight, hearing, taste, feeling and smelling. When we lose one of them, the others get stronger to compensate. People often debate on which sense is the worst to lose, and often they compare eyesight with hearing. Have you ever thought about that? I haven’t given it much thought myself and I couldn’t say which would be the worst. I just pray that if I would lose some of my senses God would give me strength to endure the consequences of that handicap.

The topic for this article is a picture where you can read: ”The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
How is that possible, you ask, to hear what the other doesn’t say? It is possible if you are willing to listen. You must be able to read between the lines, listen to the small signs of a different message than the one you are told. If you speak to someone who is of no interest to you, you hear the words and you are fine with it. You don’t try to interpret something that is hidden in their message; the message is clear for you even if you might not like it.
If you speak to someone you care about, it is a bit different. You listen to the tone of their voice, you read their body language and if the message contradicts the body language, you become hesitant. You instinctively know that there is something, a hidden message, behind the words. If you trust your gut feeling you ask your partner about it, but sometimes we doubt ourselves and say that it is all in our mind.

Many of us who have loved ones living abroad are left with nothing but their voice either on the phone or online. Skype is good to use, if it works, but many of us can’t use it because of technical reasons. Seeing the face of the one you love is lifting the communication to another level, but many times we have to be content with hearing the voice. Not until you experience that for a long time, do you understand how to interpret every spoken word and you begin to listen to what is hidden behind the words. You don’t see the facial expressions of the one you speak to, you don’t see the gestures and you can’t read their body language. The sound of the voice is the only thing there, so you begin to search for more than you first get. Sometimes this can lead to a misunderstanding; the one you speak to might be tired or worried about something that she or he doesn’t want to speak about.
The voice is a very delicate tool with so many nuances and can express so many emotions. The voice is so intimately related with your own personality and that is why it is hard to hide your emotions unless you keep quiet.

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I love to sing but that is hard to do if you are emotional. I play several music instruments, but the voice (which is counted as an instrument) is the hardest to master, it is so intimately connected to one’s personality. During the years when I was working as a church musician, and I played at a lot of funerals, it could be really hard to sing. The Christian rituals at a funeral are very different from the Muslim. They do the main ceremony in a church where there is a lot of music. After the church ceremony, the congregation follows the coffin to the graveyard where they put flowers by the grave. The funerals that are the hardest to attend to are those of small children or young persons. I had to force myself to sing, and I tried my best to think of something else than the funeral while I sing. If I had focused on the sadness I would have cried and then it would have been impossible to perform any song at all.

Grief is something we share so hearing others crying while you yourself have to try to remain calm is extremely hard. Most of us feel empathy. It is something that kicks in automatically, so trying to put that aside takes a lot of willpower.
Losing someone you love is always hard, and one thing that I have experienced is how important it is to speak with each other about matters that mean something and not only about shallow things. The day you sit by the deathbed of your loved ones, take the opportunity to speak with them. Remember that the last sense that leaves a human being is the hearing. Even if you don’t get any reply, or you don’t notice any sign of the other hearing you, keep on speaking.

My mother died almost five years ago and I spent a lot of time with her when she laid on her deathbed. The last week of her life she wasn’t able to communicate anymore. I kept on speaking to her about old memories, I sang for her the songs I knew she loved. We used to sing together a lot during some years of my youth and when I sang these songs for her, I clearly noticed that she recognised them. The last days of her life she didn’t respond at all unless I spoke in Finnish. Unfortunately, I had forgotten almost all my native language, but I remembered the words for mother and I love you. I could tell her that I was there, in Finnish, and she made some grunting noise to show that she heard me. I have heard from people who work caring for the elderly, that at the end of their lives it is often their native language they remember. Even if a person had lived many years abroad, and speaks the language fluently, it is the native language that reflects the soul. Those of you, dear readers, who have been living abroad for some time, know how comforting it is when you can speak your own language with people. Even if you try to express your deepest emotions in your new language, it is in your own language you find the right words.

Did you know that even the unborn child can hear sounds? It hears the voice of its mother every day and when the baby is born it can recognise the mother’s voice from several other voices. Scientists have made tests to see how babies react to different voices. A very small baby doesn’t have control over its eyes at the beginning, but it has no problems with the hearing. The baby hears its mother’s voice clearest, as it is so near, but it can also hear other voices if you speak close to the mother’s belly. The sound of that voice is a bit more blurry, if you have tried to listen under water, that is how it sounds. The sound from the mother’s voice doesn’t only reach the unborn baby’s ears, but it also comes as vibrations. As it is always present, it becomes more familiar than other voices. God has given the small vulnerable babies the ability to recognise their mothers’ voice among all others; it is a matter of survival. This ability is actually found among other species, for example, penguins. The small penguin babies all look alike, but the sound is different for each and every penguin mother and baby. The mother can find the right baby among thousands of similar looking penguin babies in her colony. Amazing, isn’t it?
The little human baby depends on its senses; hearing mum’s voice, recognising her smell, the taste of her milk, the touch of her hands and even a bit blurry picture of her face. A baby is kept so close to the mother’s body that it doesn’t have the need of seeing something at a larger distance.

The world, seen from the baby’s perspective, is very small, but as the baby grows its perspective of the world also grows. Therefore it needs to be able to interpret the inputs it gets by using its brain more. In the beginning, the baby survives by using its instincts, but the world gets more complicated to understand as the baby grows. We must help the baby a lot during the first years after it is born, but we must also allow it to explore the world little by little so it can manage on its own when it has grown up and become and an adult.
By showing love and affection to the child, we give it the best platform to stand on when the world around it becomes a bit rocky. Actions speak louder than words, but don’t forget that words are important too.

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