We had guests last night. Not our usual friends, rather people I had never met. I greeted them at the door and did what I always do; say hello, kiss the women, exchange pleasantries, invite them to sit and start the taarof. Everything went smoothly and I didn't notice anything special about any of them.
A few minutes later, I realized that Saba, the 3-year-old daughter of one of our guests, was talking to her mother, but I couldn't hear her. She wasn't using her voice, just her lips to speak. I wondered if the child had a hearing problem? I could've sworn I heard her talk earlier.
I realized the mother answered her in the same way, just lips, and no words. It then hit me. It was the mother who couldn't hear, not the child. But little Saba knew just how to mime the words so that her mother could understand. She had also learnt how to read lips.
Saba's parents are both deaf. I was told that when their older daughter Sepideh was an infant, she had to spend most nights with her grandmother and not her parents, because they could not hear their child cry at night.
They overcame this problem with Saba. It was 6-year-old Sepideh who was responsible for waking her mother when Saba cried. This task, which many mothers consider a burden and a nuisance, was handed over to a 6-year old!
Now I had a problem. All this time I had carried on normal conversation, assuming everyone understands me. What should I do now? I've been told that people with disabilities don't like to be treated differently. Should I carry on normal conversation the way I had done earlier? Or should I talk clearly and mime my words so my guest could understand? But what if that hurt her feelings? What if I made her uncomfortable? Truth be told, I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her or make her feel unwelcome.
I avoided her eyes and prayed that she wouldn't make conversation with me. Inside I felt guilty and horrible about what I was doing. But better to avoid a conversation than to hurt her. I think.
At one point she tapped me on my arm indicating she wants to talk to me. I prayed I could handle this. I took a deep breath and decided that if I were going to have a conversation with this woman, I would do it properly. Her way. After all, if this were a French lady, I would use the few French words I have picked up. Therefore, I was going to try and speak to her in her language.
I answered all her questions using hand gestures and simple words. I also did my best to speak slowly and clearly, mouthing every word. This went on for about 10 minutes when I realized that we were on a roll! The conversation had dragged on to art and her interest in the field.
I was expecting her to be something of a genius. Isn't it true that when God takes away one thing, he replaces it with another? Maybe I thought she would be the next Helen Keller, or Stephen Hawkins. But she wasn't. She only had a high school diploma. I think I was actually disappointed. She wasn't a genius nor was she very educated. But, like every mother, she has the tough responsibility of raising two young children.
Sepideh has the most angelic laugh I have ever heard. I wish, even if for once, her mother could hear that. I can only imagine what it would mean to her! I think of what it must be like to live in silence. I wonder how she feels watching her kids grow up, but not being able to hear them cry, laugh or say their first words.
Does she get the urge to scream like I do when I'm angry? Does she know what it feels like to yell at the top of your lungs and let it all out? I'm thinking of all the mothers who constantly complain about their children crying in the night. I bet if they had to spend one day NOT hearing their child at all, they would never complain again!
I thank God for everything He has given me, and I promise to be more grateful and not take things for granted. I am also grateful to have met this special woman. I believe that she has taught me more in one evening, than I could've learnt from the best books. I am ashamed of myself for having been scared to talk to her. But I'm not scared anymore. You live, you learn. And I have learnt a valuable lesson.
When exchanging goodbyes, she invited me to visit her in Iran this summer. A few hours ago, I would have stepped back and probably just stared at her, wondering what I should say or do. But I smiled and gladly accepted by saying “Inshallah”.
I know I would like to see her again, for I'm not the coward I was a few hours ago.