I love to travel and caught that bug early at the age of fourteen. In 1974, my deaf grandmother, who did not wear hearing aids and did not know and use sign language, was planning a trip from Ohio to Texas to visit her oldest daughter, my aunt. Because of her failing health and deafness, it was determined that my grandmother would need an escort on her flights to and from Texas.
As my mother, her sister, and other relatives sat discussing who would make the trip as an escort, I eagerly volunteered, “I’ll go!” I remember my surprise at how readily they all agreed to let me ditch two weeks of school, that freshman year, but when I think of it I realize it was less about me and more about no one else wanting to take time off work, and the fact that the thought of flying was not a pleasant one to anyone else but me.
It was a first at flying, for both myself and my grandmother, and was a wonderful trip that whet my appetite for travel and the independence that comes with it. Also, at fourteen, I was still pretty much unaware of the degree of difference between what I heard and what others heard, so I had very little apprehension in trying new things. Thankfully, I remain un-apprehensive, in most situations, but that is not to say that I don’t face struggles with my hearing loss while traveling.
Most of my traveling has been with my family, but I regularly have taken solo trips, basking in the independence I feel at traveling alone. One of my favorite traveling experiences is when I trek to a foreign country to visit with someone I know, who is from that country. In April of 2007 I had such an opportunity, visiting a small, farming village outside of San Juan, in the Philippines. My husband’s cousin met his wife, who is from the Philippines, while both were working in the United Arab Emirates. They had invited me to visit the Philippines with them several times, but vacation time and schedules seemed to always be in conflict, until last year–being unemployed I was able to make the trip. I found my cousin’s family and the Filipino people to be extremely welcoming, kind, gracious, and absolutely lovely. My two weeks there was one of the best vacations I have ever had. We arrived during preparations for a family wedding and awoke that first morning to the whole village cooperatively cooking, planning, and preparing for the wedding feast away in Batangas City, a long, dusty drive via jeepney. It took a few days for some people to warm up to the “spoiled Americans” (my perception), but my cousin translated that the women traveling with us (29 people packed in a jeepney) on the long, dusty drive home from Batangas City were discussing how I was always smiling, never complaining, and was so down-to-earth. It was a wonderful compliment, among the best I’ve ever been paid.
By the end of two weeks I felt I was leaving my own family. My cousin’s nine nieces and nephews cried and said they would miss “Auntie Michele”. Life is not easy in the Philippines, but the people and families I met in that small farming village made the most of what they had, and I came away confirming what I had always known–we need not share a culture, a religion, a gender, an ethnic or social background, or even a spoken language to connect with someone. Not even the ability to hear is required–only a common heart is needed.
I made the return trip from Manila, solo, through Nagoya, Japan and we were required to deplane and go through security again before re-boarding. Japanese is not a language one can easily pick up a few needed phrases in, especially when one is hearing impaired, but what I found was that most foreign travelers, hearing or not, are virtually in the same boat when they don’t speak the language. instead of being one hearing impaired individual who needed assistance, I was simply one of many who did not understand the language, and so my not hearing faded as an issue and I found myself on a level playing field with all others who did not understand. For that reason, I find it much easier to travel in foreign countries as a hearing impaired traveler, than traveling in the United States or in an English speaking country.
As with most things, I believe attitude plays the biggest part in how comfortable one is with travel, whether foreign or domestic, more so than being hearing or non-hearing, as there are a lot of hearing people who are intimidated by travel. Because I learned to love travel, both with others and alone, at a young age when my adventurous spirit was the focus, I was able to keep that focus and deal with the difficulties I have encountered because of not hearing, as a secondary issue. It may be that by not giving my hearing issues top billing, I freed myself to better cope with a life of not hearing? Attitude is everything!!
by Michele Linder