They woke me up arriving in the dorm late at night, four shadows sorting out their beds, banging and scuffling around in the dim light. At least they weren’t talking.
Then I realised they weren’t being considerate. They were just deaf.
The next evening Siva and his three friends Bharath, Arun and Madhu were hanging out in The Overstay’s dorm, sat by the window, signing to each other and chuckling.
I was lying on my bunk bed pretending to be working on my laptop watching them out of the corner of my eye. I was curious to know what travelling was like for a deaf person. Did hearing make any real difference?
I was hesitant to approach them at first. It’s hard enough talking to people out of the blue normally, let alone if you don’t speak the same language or even use the same medium of communication. What if they got pissed that I just wanted to talk to them because they’re deaf?
But after a couple of minutes my curiosity overcame my fear of social awkwardness.
I wandered over, waved hello, sat down with my Macbook and as they watched I typed out:
“This may be a bit weird … but I’m a travel blogger … and I’d like to do an interview with you guys about…”
Siva didn’t even let me finish. Just gave me a big grin and a thumbs up. Awesome.
I was just going to get his email address and shoot him some questions but it seemed weird and rude to not have a chat since we had already been introduced.
I would type out a question then he would grab the laptop and respond, balancing it on his knee, while the other three looked on.
We started with the usual backpacker introductions. Where you from? Where you been? Where you going?
Siva, 33, said he was a graphic designer from Chennai while the other three “deafs” were from Bangalore. In the week they had been in Thailand they had hit Koh Samui, Phuket, Pattaya, Kanchanaburi and Koh Phi Phi doing all the usual backpacker stuff: beaching, kayaking, shopping.
“my fav experices is close encounters with royal bengal tigers for them (the other three) they share the same and the addition fav is the night life which are worth spending life :)”
Siva had been travelling abroad a couple of times before, to Malaysia and Singapore, but it was the first time the others had left India.
“1st time experiences for them to understand the spirits of adventure in alien lands…my aim is bring the deaf cultures to research the different cultures of different countries.”
He asked me if I liked cricket, and I said no. We talked a bit about the bus gang rape controversy in India then he gave me some shit about Australia still being part of the English monarchy.
I asked if they could read lips. Siva said they normally could a bit but they found it difficult with me because of my beard.
The interview was going OK when I asked simple questions on concrete subjects but when things got a bit abstract we tended to lose each other. I’m not sure whether it was because they were deaf or Indian or because I was asking stupid or weird questions but getting an answer I understood required a fair bit of back and forth.
Finding out exactly what it was like being a deaf traveller was tricky:
Me: Do you think being deaf has made a difference to your experience of travelling? In what way?
Siva: that is what i encourage them to see our world as SMALL languages and cultures have no boundaries..
Me: i don’t really understand. by “them” do you mean the other three?
Siva: not them….all my deaf friends back @ india… as u know most deafs of different countries never meet others in other part of world
Me: so are you saying that you wanted to show your deaf friends back in India that they should travel to other countries and that it is easy and fun?
Siva: yeah also tell them not to worry about the cash to fly.
We chatted a bit more until my laptop’s battery was about to run out and friended each other on Facebook. Siva thanked me for taking an interest and I thanked him for being happy to chat.
I said I was planning to go to India. He told me to let him know when I arrived. Then he waved goodbye and went off with the others to go drink downstairs.
I’m not sure if I got any real insight into what it’s like to be a deaf traveller. I guess that’s like asking someone what it’s like being an Australian traveller or an Indian traveller. You’ve got nothing to compare it to.
At least I know one thing for certain now: Travelling is still a lot of fun whether you can hear or not.