The Quail Trail

Wia Kotzé
Copyright 2002

I call my story the "Quail Trail". For those of you who don't know the story of the Quails... I call my CI buddies the Quails or Kwartels (Afrikaan for Quail) because we have an Afrikaan saying that goes (literally translated) "As deaf as a quail"..

[Editor's note: Previous installments of The Quail Trail can be read at:

Parts 1 and 2:;
Parts 3 and 4:;
Parts 5 and 6:]

Part Seven

Illinois - first impressions - Academics and Agriculture

I departed from Newark a little less secure about air travel after my previous experience at the same spot on the 2nd of July. I requested all the assistance I could get and got onto the plane without effort. Well, you could have guessed it! The plane was delayed again! Same story!. I could not hear why we had to disembark again.

However, this time I was more prepared for it. I had all the possible phone numbers at hand and I immediately approached a nice elderly lady asking her to please help me make some phone calls. By then I could identify people who might be willing to help far. You just look for something that will stand out like this Afro-American lady’s straw hat and friendly smile. I ignored the airline’s lady at the desk like a red traffic light because she was babbling away like her colleague in Toronto. I wrote down the phone number and an explanation who Merle was as well as the reason for the phone call, etc., and passed that on to the helpful lady who refused to accept money for the phone call. She said she would never accept money for helping me, she was just giving back something to all the people that helped her in her life. Made me think! I will never forget that.

The phone calls were made without trouble and within minutes the two of us were talking that hind leg off a donkey! I was happy and felt better thinking that this time I managed well -- and I was talking to someone who knew how to handle others with hearing difficulties! That was a bonus in itself.

About an hour after my expected arrival time my friend Connie was waiting for me with a warm real hug and a broad smile. Oh how often had we gone over this specific moment in our minds and messages over 18 months! At last I had the wonderful privilege to meet this dear friend who lifted my soul from so many dark pits of depression during my husband’s last pain-filled days and who brought smiles when discussing our mutual joys at discovering yet another descriptive idiom or saying when comparing languages. Over time Connie and I almost started writing in Afrikaans to each other since she is fluent in German and understands Dutch very well – in fact she can understand no less than NINE languages! Little did I know then how much more we had to share apart from our love for languages.

All I knew about Illinois before we commenced our journey to Urbana-Champagne was not to expect the lush scenery of New Jersey and there were no mountains or lakes to speak of in comparison to other parts of America and Canada. Driving from the airport past cultivated fields, my childhood memories of cornfields floated in. Only these farmlands were greener and I almost did not recognise the plants for maize at first. I remembered my father looking at a particularly beautiful corn field at our farm years ago saying to me, ”If it rained like this and the corn is as beautiful when I am dead one day they will have to tie me up wherever I am to prevent me from coming back to harvest the crop and plough the lands!” To me it was beautiful and in my mind I was a happy young child back on our farm in the Free State. I did not need the mountains and the lakes to observe beauty: It was truly in the eye of the beholder.

We stopped for a typical American lunch at a highway restaurant and Connie’s husband, Gordon, was explaining things to me as far as we went. Over the next few days we would be out on similar trips in and around Urbana. The city reminded me of two equally beautiful, but much smaller, “University“ cities in South Africa. Both Stellenbosch and Potchefstroom have similar tree-lined streets - huge oaks painting Cape Dutch buildings with shadow patterns on the walls in Stellenbosch and similar oaks and willow trees providing soothing shadows against the harsh summer sun in Potchefstroom. Although it was the middle of the summer holidays without many students about, I could picture students walking, cycling and laughing on their way to their classes – everything was beautiful and very familiar but, like everything in America – vastly bigger.

Every day Gordon would drive to show me some more of the University of Illinois. He would drive along a different street every day to provide me with yet another beautiful view of the houses and gardens. I could not get enough of it. It is a truly beautiful city and I could see why they chose to spend their retirement from the academic world in this environment where they can still enjoy their love of languages and music amongst colleagues and friends with similar interests. I identified easily with this academic environment in the heart of America’s “food basket” with its many agricultural activities. I envied Connie for being able to attend and enjoy music at concerts in the Krannert Centre for performing arts. She is doing so well with listening to music with her CI.

One of the things that I wanted to do was to listen to Gordon playing the organ in their church. Gordon has been a concert organist and agreed to indulge in a small “recital” on my behalf so that we could discover what I could appreciate when listening to music with my CI. This started with him playing the piano at home for me but unfortunately it sounded awful to say the least! Then we went to the church because I was insisting the only music I heard since my implant that more or less sounded like music was hearing the organ at Hennie’s (my husband’s) funeral 18 months ago.

The church is a small chapel with a beautiful organ. And yes! It was a CI moment for me. I won’t say I enjoyed the music but it was rather special because I could pick up some of the lower frequencies with my non-implanted ear and it sort of balanced the sounds to convert some white noise into music. Maybe it also had to do with the vibrations from the organ in the silent, empty church -- the rich bass sounds embedded a memory in my CI sound library. It made me feel at peace but sad, remembering the sounds of an organ months ago …

On our way back from the church we came across the Fourth of July celebrations but we decided that we would rather go home to get away from the intense heat since temperatures were soaring in Urbana. So we headed home and decided to watch everything on TV in the comfort of their air-conditioned home.

At the same time my computer withdrawal symptoms were becoming rather severe and I convinced myself that I HAD to spend some of my precious American dollars to cure myself and to make provision for some storage space for my photos. So we set off to a HUGE computer store where I bought this very nice toy – my laptop – for myself! What a joy! I immediately downloaded a lot of photos and became digital camera happy at once!!

The next day they provided me with enough inspiration to keep me clicking away merrily on the rest of my journey by taking me to the Larry Kanfer Art Gallery. What an amazing selection of photographs of Illinois and environment! Do yourself a favour and check this out on the Larry Kanfer web site!! As I walked into the studio I stopped in my tracks at a huge photograph of a corn field showing rows of corn with a farm house forming a hazy back drop for the lush green plants - aptly named “Standing Ovation”. I was back on a Free State maize farm once again.

The next few days in Urbana really took us to the “foothills of Mount Level” as the area is jokingly referred to. I also had the privilege to meet some of Connie’s good friends. She invited her friend Sally for drinks and snacks. For this occasion we exchanged recipes that we’ve been telling each other about over many e-mails in the previous months. Connie made Cheese Bombay to show me how it should be made because when she gave me the recipe I ended up with something quite different to what it should be. I had to show off a little of my own skills and made us a Rooibos tea punch. Rooibos tea is a popular caffeine free herb tea that is very popular in South Africa. We spent a very pleasant evening discussing our CI‘s, recipes, traditional foods and what not.

Later that same week Connie invited another friend, Charissa. Charissa had been in South Africa years ago and we had lots to share while I was filling her in on how things changed since she had been there and she delighted me with stories about her stay in South Africa. Obviously our implants were also again discussed because Charissa is head of the Audiology Department at the University of Illinois.

The days went by too quickly to explore all the delights. We went shopping and I spent a delightful time inspecting all the products in a Chinese delicatessen, enjoyed the wide variety of cheeses as well a most enjoyable evening at an Indian restaurant. I went with Gordon to taste some local and other wines and with Connie to see more of Urbana. We visited the farmers’ market early on a Saturday morning. Being a crafter myself it was very interesting to compare the crafts and products at the market to what we have in South Africa and pick up a few good ideas as well.

It was wonderful to spend time with my friends in their home and to become part of their daily routine. I simply loved looking at the bunnies and the squirrels in the garden. The fireflies never failed to intrigue my curiosity and I could stand forever looking at them as it seemed they were putting up a show especially for me every evening. I haven’t seen fireflies since I was a very small child on our farm. I even caught some of them to have a closer look at their taillights.

While with Connie and Gordon the weather was very hot and humid. Sunday afternoon we went for a drive in the countryside past numerous fields of corn and through quaint little towns with beautiful houses and lovely gardens to the Fork River preserve near Homer. It was a hot and humid afternoon and we had some thunderstorm warnings even before we left home. On our way back home the dark clouds against the lush green of the cornfields provided some beautiful images for photographs. The woods and the lake at the Fork River Preserve had a special feeling of tranquillity as the sunlight faded and the storm clouds grew darker. It also was my first experience of storm and tornado warnings both on TV and Connie’s storm alert device. Later that evening I looked in awe at the devastation of the same storm where it struck a nearby town in full force.

It was with a sad heart that I said goodbye to these dear friends on Monday when they took me to the bus station from where I left to meet my friend Ruth in Chicago.

Part Eight

CIAI Convention - Babblebox Business at its best!

One of the definite highlights of my trip and an event that really looked forward to very much was the CIAI (Cochlear Implant Assoc, Inc.) Convention in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota.

I left home two months prior to the convention with excitement and anticipation because I got involved in keeping a list of people who planned to go to the CIAI Convention long before I left South Africa. I made up a list of people that I wanted to meet to ensure I would not miss out on anyone once I got to Minneapolis. I also made contact with a number of people in New York City at a CI Support Group meeting at the League for the Hard of Hearing shortly after I arrived in America. I was looking forward to meeting some of these people again in Minneapolis. My personal primary reason for attending the Convention was to meet as many as possible of my CI friends in person and I was set and ready to do just that!

A good friend promised to meet us at the airport and it was with fond anticipation that I looked forward also to meeting her in person for the first time. This lady had been visiting another friend of me in Canada only days before the Convention and by the time I arrived in Minneapolis I could really not wait to give her a first real hug. The first thing I saw after getting off the plane was a smiling face holding up a poster saying, “HUGSAKABUNCHES WIA.” This was the same poster my friend in Canada welcomed me with in Toronto upon my arrival What a wonderful welcome to Minneapolis! Needless to say that poster came back to South Africa with me and is now proudly displayed as a fine reminder of the happy times that I spent with both of them.

We went directly to the hotel from the airport, my hostess pointing out landmarks as we approached downtown Minneapolis. Our rooms weren’t ready upon arrival at the hotel but that did not put me off at all. I immediately recognised a representative of Advanced Bionics in the hotel lobby and after a quick hello to her I set off to the registration desk to look for people I ”knew” to announce my arrival. After introducing myself, the first person I talked to that I recognised as an e-mail list member exclaimed, “Oh! Are you Wia? I am so happy to meet you!” At that stage I did not realise how many times I would hear the same words from different people over the next few days. It was one of the happiest feelings of my life to be welcomed with so much enthusiasm by so many people whom I had never met before but regarded almost as “long lost” CI friends! What a pleasure and what a good, warm expression of caring! At the same time I briefly wondered whether I would have received the same welcome if I simply arrived from somewhere in the US and not from far away South Africa. Well the ”alien” from South Africa had arrived and she was programmed for fun!

The first afternoon I attended the “Newcomer’s Welcome reception.” After the welcoming address and some information, we all received a fun questionnaire to see who could talk to and meet the most people in the shortest time. This questionnaire included things like getting signatures from “a person wearing more that three rings” or finding “a person that has never seen the ocean” etc. I could never win this competition although I felt as if I already knew half of the people because everyone had more to say to me than just giving a quick signature when I approached them! What fun that was! Denise Rogers was the overall winner – having a somewhat unfair advantage with having her cute hearing ear doggie, Mr Wiggles, to help her! Later on I had the privilege “get to know” Mr Wiggles a little better when I met up for talks and fun with the “ladies from California” in the lounge almost every evening!

Later on that same evening I had more practice “meeting cyber friends in real life” when I attended the get together that was organised for members of the CI Forum. More friends, more laughter and more fun! I secured friendships once again with the “Long Island Ladies”; delighted in meeting a good friend from Gallaudet University with whom I exchanged many e-mails for the past year or more; meeting people from Cochlear Australia; and the Convention hosts from the Minnesota Chapter of CIAI – simply too many people to mention individually! At the end of the first evening I was in “emotional overdrive”. When I eventually got to bed that night I could not sleep. I was not counting sheep – I was “putting faces to names”.

By the next evening I had to start making short notes next to the names of people in my diary to help me keep track of the; descriptions next to the names included: “pleasant personality with short, dark hair: vibrant sign language conversationalist; cute dimpled smile; somewhat shy; friendly and caring; hearty laughter; elegant lady wanting to visit South Africa; a loving girl with built-in goodness” Such are the qualities of true and lasting friends. How more lucky can a person be than to count such people amongst your friends? I sincerely hope some of you reading this can identify yourselves.

The next morning we continued our conversations in the exhibition hall where we met for breakfast before attending the formal opening sessions and inter alia learnt more about new developments in hearing loss research and much more. I am not going to attempt to write about the formal sessions and the workshops because it is impossible to condense all that was included in three fun- and information–packed days into a mere few paragraphs. The workshops were educational and interesting but seeing that I’ve been a member of various forums for quite a long time there was a lot I knew already. For newcomers without this experience and background however, it must have been very informative. At the formal sessions I delighted more in the luxury of all the assistive listening devices that made hearing so much easier. We don’t have such luxuries where I come from. For the first time in years I was not feeling like being in a soundproof bubble excluded from people discussing important matters.

Saturday evening I attended the Convention banquet. Apart from a lovely meal, again the company was excellent! Betty Longwith’s words when she made her excellent speech that night will remain with me for a lifetime: “People may forget what you say or do to them, but they will never forget how you make them feel.” It was so appropriate at this special time when so many people made me feel like I was anchored on cloud nine!

Sunday we had yet another lunch presented by Cochlear where we met people from the Nucleus forum. It was a special privilege to have a deaf –blind CI’er as one of our table guests, along with his guide dog, fondly referred to by him as “the blonde bombshell”. What an inspiration it was to meet this fine, friendly, deaf-blind gentleman and to see how much his CI helped him to be part of the hearing world again.

I could not resist slipping away from the Convention with my friend for a lovely morning at her apartment where we managed to have a quick online chat with our mutual friend in Canada. That same afternoon she took a few of us to the impressive Mall of America before I had to bid her a sad farewell. How I would have loved to see more of Minneapolis-St Paul…but – maybe there will be another time.

Sunday evening we watched the film “Sound and Fury” and I ended up in the lounge again for last talk with some very good friends. The next morning there was only time to say few more goodbyes before we took the shuttle bus to the airport to return to New Jersey. On the bus we had a last chat with two bilateral CI implantees. How I wished that I could rather go back to Chicago where the SWC Convention was to be hosted later that same week. I was sad to leave all my new and old friends but I left feeling fulfilled and happy to know that I have so many good friends that will remember the often too brief, but quality times we shared. It is so wonderful to know that many of them will be there for me through both good and bad times hopefully for many more years to come. All I can say is that it will be my greatest pleasure to reciprocate with similar friendship and hospitality should anyone of you want to come and visit me in South Africa. What about having a re-union in Pretoria?

Continued next month ...


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