Mr HK deaf, in Potosi

FBDB1E90-99D6-41F5-AC49-E3BB1E60978DIt’s Saturday mid-morning and after spending a couple hours walking everywhere in Potosi without a map, something I often do when travelling, and searching for a decent café that is open, I return to the first café I tried earlier, only to find it fiinally open! I am smiling as I had a coffee there yesterday and it was excellent, Italian Lavassa. I walked in and ordered a coffee and a toasted sandwich. I had a couple hours to kill before my trip to the miners’ tunnels.

Sipping my coffee and realising that there was no wifi in this café contrary to my expectations, I started thinking about forward plans, what to be doing after Argentina. Sometimes its good to be thinking like this, other times it gives you unconscious pangs of “Oh heck, there’s too much sightseeing, I’ve had enough of mountain views”. Homesickness comes and goes. I am only too aware I will be saying bye to my new deaf friends from Potosi tomorrow, and that its likely I won’t see anyone else deaf for another 20 days.

People who know me will understand I love company and to be fully involved in conversations etc. You travel with a hearing group or go on a tour, the conversations are often limited after 10 or 15mins polite introductory remarks. The reasons are multiple, but at the age of 42yr I can summarise these as being:

• They talk too fast
• They talk with a foreign accent too strong
• They just don’t get it as to what a deaf person needs
• There’s nothing in common
• We are together only for a short while, what’s the point in really trying
• The English solo deaf guy looks like a nerd (joke!)

The time passes and I’m ready to order my second coffee – it only costs a pound. And then he walks in. A Chinese guy, wearing this dreadful American baseball red cap, heavy layers of clothes with a coat that looks too big for him. There’s a cochlear implant on one side of his head, and a hearing aid on the other. He has quite a line of sweat on his forehead and cheeks. It is warm and sunny outside.

I kind of wonder for a bit as to whether to say hello, or to pretend I’ve not seen him. As if by automatic reflex, I wave to him and sign “Hi, you deaf? Wanna come sit with me?” He had this weird facial expression in his response, as if he was wanting to never meet deaf people again but equally as if he had had enough of hearing companions recently. He sat with me and shook my hand.

He then starts in this monotonous manner, asking me where I am from and whether I am on my own. He then continues, telling me he’s from Hong Kong. His communication style is rather bizarre, as if he has been trying to forget all the sign language he had. He was very keen to demonstrate he could speak, although I couldn’t really tell how fluent. His fingerspelling alternated from BSL to ASL, I wasn’t sure whether to continue using BSL rather than international sign.

He is wearing spectacles, his large ears and his cap kind of clashes with his hearing aid and implant, they make them really stand out. He looks tired and somewhat flustered.

I ask him about his current plans, he tells me he is with a hearing tour group with people from all over the world for just 10days. He looks tired, as if he has been trying to fit in the group to no progress. He seems to be pretending to himself that it is all ok. He tells me the group are currently on free time before heading off to Uyuni for the salt flats later today. I remark I am going there tomorrow. He doesn’t exactly bang his fist on table and express a wish that we were both going today. It appears almost a relief to him privately.

He reminds me of the kind of deaf person who is trying to remove himself from the deaf community, to try and make his amplification work, and yet rather unsuccessfully.

He’s playing with the menu in his hands, looking at the list and telling me he doesn’t know Spanish at all. I try and help him, telling him what the sandwich choices were from my recent basic Spanish. He keeps looking at the menu but I suspect it’s a tactic to get away from conversing too much with me.

And just like that. He tells me he’s not staying in the café and going to find somewhere else. He thanks me for our brief chat and says bye. He walks out of the café speedily and I am rather disillusioned. I’d have thought he would have valued a chat without communication issues. I was kind of hoping to get to know him a little more and to see what experiences we could share about Bolivia.

There are odd-balls in this life and I do reckon he is one of them. This is nothing to do with him being deaf or using a hearing aid and implant. I suspect he’s one of those shy, reserved people who value so much privacy in their lives. Maybe he sees me as a threat to his confidence, given that I’ve been travelling for 3 months and having lots of fun along the way with Deaf people often.

I finish my second coffee and head off to the miner’s tunnel experience. Of course, with so much physical attention needed in the dark tunnels I forget about Mr HK deaf until later in the evening. Just wonder how he is doing and whether he is hating being a solo deaf traveller.

Facebook has a great group called Solo Deaf Travellers which I have found useful occasionally especially to psyche myself with stories from others. But would Mr HK deaf join or even know about such a group? Sometimes its easy to assume what someone feels/thinks without really knowing enough about them. Whether I am right or wrong about him, I will never know!

(No photo of him in this blog for obvious reasons!)

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