I was having lunch a few months ago when I suddenly struggled to get to the end of what I was saying- my voice dipped and wouldn't come back. Within a week or so, I couldn't produce any noise and was forced into a soundless whisper. If I strained a bit, I could just about make a sound that could possibly be heard at very close range. My first medical consultation did nothing, and I had tickets to go abroad that meant going with just this silent croak.
It soon became clear that such inability to speak is not that common- most people at first didn't know what to do and I had to adjust. Some were worried that I was infectious, so I quickly learnt to say that I simply couldn't speak at all- then they would lean closer to try to understand. Many were keen to help and didn't worry about this risk. You can choose who's right.
How do you ask a taxi or tuk-tuk to turn left when they cannot hear you? You have to tap and point. One friend thought I was trying to whisper a secret message when I arrived at his door with a porter, when I was just trying to say hello. It's easy to carry a pen and paper, and your pointing and signalling get better, but it's harder when you have lunch with a friend you haven't seen for a couple of years and communication is very limited.
You do realise that some people you deal with think you're stupid- friends will find workarounds, strangers are different.
I knew that it was a temporary state, and it only lasted a couple of months, but it did give me an idea of what it is like to be deprived of one aspect of language completely- it's horrible, but the good thing is that most people I came across were willing to try and help. Some thought I was a bit thick, which must be very frustrating long-term, but I only came across one complete and utter jerk. I might have been lucky and there may be more than him in real life, but I did get the impression that if people don't think you'll infect them, they'll try to help. It's complex, frustrating and takes adapting to, and I only had to do it for a couple of months.
Explaining for the third time that you don't need a return ticket when you are heading somewhere you have a residence visa for is difficult when you can make no noise, and want to explode with frustration at someone unable to read this who wants to stop you getting on a plane. I used to think that being deaf or mute were nothing compared to being blind. Having experienced one of these sensory losses, even for such a short time, I am no longer so sure. When the next course of treatment started working, I found that I could make odd, random noises, then speech started coming back. It was a miraculous thing, but one many don't get.
Categories: Asian Blog