Janine Davis: Life as a deaf island girl in Trinidad

Posted on October 27, 2017

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I am an island girl, a deaf island girl, living in Trinidad.

Depending on where you’re from it might be tempting to think life is at the beach every day, with carnival, soca (‘Soul of Calypso’) music and a ‘toss your hair to the wind’ kind of life (my hair is a little too curly for that).

For those living on an island already, they are accustomed to the grind of everyday life. It’s not all  idyllic and happy times, sipping a beer on the beach, or sleeping on a hammock while the gentle breeze sway you from side to side. Certainly not the case on a daily basis!

Whenever I look at the HGTV programmes, especially the ‘House Hunters International’ edition, it is interesting that the first thing they are looking for is a house on the Beach or as close to the Beach as possible.

I say interesting, since during the hurricane season the backlash for those closest to the shores can be horrendous!  Mind you we have not been prone to hurricanes but it still cannot be ruled out and we can and do experience heavy rains and flooding.

However, while island living has its good points, I wonder what it’s like for other people living with hearing loss in the Caribbean. What are their prospects job-wise or education-wise?

I have always lived with deafness but I was able to survive school if only because I had some hearing. It’s only after joining the working world that I got my first hearing aid.  As the years progressed, my hearing loss became worse.

Working and going to classes have always been the most challenging aspects of life including going to gatherings, whether it’s church, or hanging with a group of friends with music and noise in the background (in local parlance, a ‘lime’).

The mix of people I have met on my journey has been interesting to say the least.

Some are surprisingly patient, others can be outright callous. The callousness is pretty hard to remember since at that point I would tune them out, which I suppose might be the reason I have always had a great measure of optimism.

I mean, if you can’t hear the negatives, it really can’t bother you can it?

Suffice to say it still took me quite some time to accept myself for what I was. I am deaf. Without my hearing aid I am actually deaf.

My daughter, at the age of 9 actually argued with me saying, “but mummy you’re not deaf”. So I showed her a video that actually provided an example of what different levels of hearing was like for people at varying stages of poor hearing and when the volume changed up or down or went to nil and she herself genuinely couldn’t hear, it was a moment of clarity for her and she finally understood.

While living on an island is beautiful if only for the warm weather (sometimes insufferable heat too) and the opportunity of beaches, doubles and roti it does have its challenges for those with physical challenges when maneuvering in a hearing world.

We are not as up to date perhaps as our first world counterparts but I am so grateful for internet, email and online tuition.

The internet has provided so many resources to learn sign language and the sign language used here is very similar to American Sign Language (well, the little I do know seems to be the same).

My interest in sign language started as a result of my cousin being deaf (he lives in the States) and my frequent encounters of two Deaf people in the grocery that packed my bags.

They were always happy when I signed a little with them. So now I feel encouraged to join a local class and really get to communicating and practicing more and meeting people like myself.

In the meantime I try teaching my kids certain words when we are out so that they can let me know what they need or if I have to ask a question and the environment is noisy. So naturally they have picked up words like hungry, thirsty and toilet in quick time.

Apart from using online resources to learn sign language I’ve been searching for groups and reading as much as possible.

I am so happy to have discovered  ‘The Limping Chicken’ and online groups of Deaf or hard of hearing people. It has provided me a rich resource of how to advocate more for myself and reach out to others and share experiences.

I think it has helped me a lot in terms of teaching my own family how to communicate with me and I am working on my extended circle of friends and coworkers.

Janine Davis is happily married with two children (boy and a girl) and a stepson. She is an accountant by trade but has always had a passion for writing and says it provides an outlet for me with the challenges she faces as a deaf person living in the hearing world on an island some may consider the hub of the Caribbean. Her goals include learning sign language (she uses the internet and a book) and writing as much as she can about her experiences as a deaf person in the Caribbean.

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