Mija Gwyn: From down under to up over

Posted on March 16, 2012



217 chickens were stampeding towards me. Hundreds of amber eyes surrounded me from all directions, fixed upon me with hungry malevolence.

Running towards the feeder I scattered handfuls of pellets behind me as a decoy. Momentarily mollified, the glint in the chickens’ eyes dimmed for long enough to let me tip out the remainder of the feedbag into their feeder.

As I trudged off, leaving the gleeful chickens squabbling over their pellets I wondered what on earth I was doing in a muddy English farm field pandering to the demands of hundreds of organic chickens.

A few months earlier I’d been in a different hemisphere, on the other side of the world, a whole 10555 miles away, with a difference of 11 hours and 3 layers of clothes.

Instead of stomping around in muddy jeans and wellies I’d been teetering through my favourite bar in a summer dress. Instead of hungry chickens I was being mobbed by dozens of friends who were plying me with glasses of champagne or giving me tearful goodbye hugs.

Why I left Australia is a whole story in itself. To put it simply, I was restless and wanted new opportunities.

So I down-scaled my existence from a sunny large house to one backpack and one suitcase, and booked an one-way ticket to London. I came to an organic family-run farm in Gloucestershire for a two-weeks working holiday which turned into a three month stay.

In between mucking out chicken coops and exploring the Forest of Dean I was busy discovering what there was for me in the UK.

The first Deaf event I visited was Deaffest, where I was astonished by the number of thriving Deaf British media, film, theatre and arts organisations. There are talented Deaf individuals in Australia, but the higher population size and density in the UK supports a far higher level of networking and organisation amongst Deaf people in the UK than what is possible in Australia.

In fact, there seemed to be more of everything in the UK. More Deaf-led companies and organisations. More support services. More Deaf studies departments. More subtitled films. More social events. More regional variations in BSL, which had me bamboozled for my first few months.

And of course, more organic chickens under my charge. More muddy eggs to be washed. More disastrous accidents involving exploding eggs when I accidentally squeezed too tightly while scrubbing the mud off the eggs.

Likewise I discovered there were some downsides to life as a Deaf person in the UK.

In Australia making phone calls had been something I had done unthinkingly, and I had assumed the relay service in the UK would be on par. Nowadays, instead of relishing my independence I wait until there is an interpreter on hand to ask them to make a call for me because the process of using the relay service here is so tedious and frustrating.

In Australia the NRS (National Relay Service) can be used via web browsers, MSN, AIM or textphones, using a very efficient and user friendly interface that offers flexibility. Best of all, it’s free to use!

Nonetheless I regarded giving up my phone calls as a small price to pay for staying in the UK. True, there was the British weather and the constant danger of being pecked by broody hens, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me taking advantage of all the opportunities the British Deaf community had to offer.

Even if it meant I could no longer ask for Coca-Cola without offending someone…

Mija Gwyn grew up in a tiny dusty Australian country town where “Who is More Dysfunctional” competitions were held amongst the children (and some of the school-teachers, who turned up to class with bottles of gin in their handbag). Somehow she went from that to majoring in philosophy at the snootiest university in Australia. Confronted with a mid-20s crisis while working for a strait-laced government department, she fled Australia to start a new life in the idyllic town of Wolverhampton. You can follow her on Twitter as @oxymoronia

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