Monday, April 20, 2009

Chipita Deaf and “not Deaf”

Chipita is a small and isolated town in the highlands close to the Zambian border. M26 is the only road linking Chipita to Karonga, nowhere else. If there was a road from Chipita to Mzimba, a town south of Mzuzu but closer to Chipita – the travel might be easier. The two days were used by returning to Karonga to spend a night and take the reasonably priced coach bus back to Blantyre that leaves only at noon. The town is unpaved with cattle and goats roaming the streets and between marketplaces. Mazungus must be far and few because many children were fascinated by my presence. Many would wave hello or stare at me. One child came up behind me to look at my tattoo on my forearm – I nearly jumped when a fingertip traced my tattoo. A group of school children went out of their way not to cross my path. One girl was afraid of me and her friends tried to pull her across but they took a back alley and around a building.

We had much work to do in only two days and we were exhausted but we plowed on. We stayed at this Roman Catholic Church lodge complete with a bar (“Papists” The Poisonwood Bible’s Bible-thumping Baptist minister Nathan Price would have muttered) for two nights. Exhausted from the 5 hour trip ordeal in a taxi cab on M26 – we retired early just in time for a blackout. Also during our stay, the showers weren’t running but we were supplied with pails filled with hot water for bathing. The hot water at my lodge in Blantyre was broken for nearly two weeks by the time I left for the trip so hot water was heaven for me, even by pail.

We had one solid lead in Chipita – a teacher at Karonga gave us this schoolteacher’s contact information in Chipita. Karonga had called ahead and the schoolteacher that met us – riding his bike – with a stack of handwritten lists of student names. They were all “deaf”. We soon found out that Chipita had an oddity – many, many students and adults had a degree of hearing loss. Many of them complained of an infection in their ear and very few we met were functionally deaf. At least one man we met wore a hearing aid donated by a South African NGO. The rest wanted a hearing aid. And they do not sign. Like in Karonga, a national association for hard of hearing will be better suited for these goals. We also met a hard of hearing school teacher who relied on his students shouting their answers back to him. We distributed survey for the record keeping purposes, that many hard of hearing people reside in Chipita.

Not all is lost. The schoolteacher contact is very resourceful. After meeting a classroom full of students with a mild hearing loss – Project Advisor Euphrasia Mbewe asked them if their doctor said they have hearing loss. Upon replying no, Mbewe sent them out – all left except for one student. Her father came by to affirm that she does indeed have a hearing loss. We hired bike taxis (the townspeople would stare at a long line of hired bikes passing by – one teacher on his bike, four Malawians and one mazungu clinging onto the rear of their bikes) since it was the main mode of transportation. Taxi cab drivers, upon noticing me = my presence means money = would demand higher prices. Not worth it.

We rode out to an edge of town where many villagers lived. We walked through the cornfields, passed a few huts until we arrived at one. A man came out to greet us and several moments later, his wife dragged their 8 year old girl who did not want to be out there with us. She was struggling and kicking against her mother’s hold. She calmed down once she and her mother sat behind the father and once in a while would peek at us. The family only spoke Tumbaka not Chichewa, so there was quite a lag in translating process. The teacher translated the father’s answers into English and Haji our MSL interpreter translated the answers into MSL. Advisor Mbewe wrote down the answers on the survey form. The situation is really sad – the only positive thing is that the family came up with home signs to communicate with the daughter. They are aware of Karonga School for the Deaf, but it is too far and the transport, clothing, and fees for books are costly. The deaf daughter can not benefit from Chipita local schools because sign language is not promoted. The family requested for access to open a small business so they can afford to send her to Karonga. We really, really felt for them.

Word spread quickly about our presence in Chipita. Our first morning there, two men on a bike brought a secondary school age male student who was in Form Four. He was oral and very bashful in our presence. His brother was the informant, filling out information. At the end of our first full day someone left a letter at our motel lodge requesting to meet us the next morning. The man brought his daughter, and his neighbor and wife brought their deaf son. The man and his daughter, it turned out her hearing loss was caused by her seizures (they were advised to get a hearing evaluation from their doctor) so away they went. The second family, like in the village with the little girl, they communicate with their son in home signs. Again, they knew about Karonga School for the Deaf but distance is too great. The village family and the local family recommended Chipita open their own Deaf unit within its schools or establish a school for the Deaf. The latter family also brought a written list of names of families that rely on signed communication with their deaf families.

Our survey trip to Karonga and Chipita was a big success despite starting with very few contacts. We were fortunate because school teachers and families of deaf children needed help and made sure that we knew of it.


Post a Comment

<< Home