Monday, July 30, 2007

1984 Apartheid Durban, Glenwood HS Teaching and Deafness Hassles

1984. Mark Esslemont's Wildlife Society boys clearing Kariba weed from Happy Valley, Bluff, Durban.

Arrogant Meneer Basson, bald, pouch-faced, paunch hanging over his belt, grizzled hairs sprouting above his safari-suit collar, disliked assertive younger staff like me, but liked gatkruipers like Blikskottel. "Eet waz betterr when da ol' prreenceepil waz herre. When we werre young, teacherrz had morre gutz. We went on ztrrike. Youz young prreema-donna teacherrz haven' godda gutz forr ztrriking." Meneer Basson didn't support his volk by coaching cadets. Before exams, invigilating staff collected exam -papers from a table in Meneer Basson's office. One morning, Meneer Basson berated me: "Youz late!"


"Everry morrning youz late collecteeng exam-paperrz!"

"Rubbish! I collect papers timeously, after the staff crush. You enjoy seeing staff tensioning-up in the mornings. Putting exam-papers in this office is stupid. Why don't you put them in the staffroom each morning? Have I ever begun exams late in classes?"


Later Mr. Maher said, "I heard you insulted hard-working Meneer Basson! Apologize, or I'll call Inspector Mandrill!"

"I arrived after the staff crush. It's less stressful. As for insults, Meneer Basson chastised me before staff. That's verbal abuse."

"Apologize hey, or your NED file will get a report!"

I found Meneer Basson sulking in his office. "Mr. Maher says you're upset. If you're upset, I apologize hey."

Glenwood had a shortage of fans during summer. I took an electric -fan from a science lab, and gave it to Blikskottel, who taught on Fortress ground floor. Fortress was a new building with sealed windows. To save money, Fortress air-conditioning was switched off. My lab fan vanished. I found it in Meneer Basson's office. "Why've you got my fan?" I asked.

"Eet'z yourr fan eezeet meneertjie? Ay arzed da carrtakerr to fin' me a fan. Ay 'ad no fan een may offiz."

"Does the caretaker always do your dirty work?"

"Meneer Ezelmond, youz juzza juniorr teechirr een deez ztaff hey! Ay needed a fan, az eetz hot! You ztole a fan frrom da zcience lab, an' geevz eet to Bleekskottel!"

"Ja, well two wrongs don't make a right. Blikskottel needed a fan. The science lab, which isn't used much, had an extra fan. I didn't steal it, like you didn't steal my fan right? I'm responsible for my lab equipment. I want my fan back, as my lab's hot!"

Mr. Maher bought fans for all staff. Caretaker sneaked my fan back to me. During winter months, Fortress's sealed windows were replaced with opening / closing windows.

Boys' questions became hard to hear. I had vertigo and nausea attacks. I staggered along corridors like Frankenstein, steadying myself against walls. I consulted an ENT specialist, who did tests saying, "You're going deaf." I was 31.

At an Addington second opinion, a Portuguese quack said, "You're going nerve-deaf. Accept it! Another test: Close your eyes and pull a face!" When I opened my eyes, interns were sniggering.

In future, I'd not be mute, but I'd play Luister - Listen parts, which would threaten some people, whose reactions to my deafness were belittling or hostile. I'd learn the evils of deafness: hits and hurts which robbed me of professional work; teachers who took advantage; pupils who mocked; quacks and audiologists; patronizing people who talked past me, like I was dumb; the timid; the fearful; the bullies; the haters; those who used my deafness to blame me for their faults; those who used my deafness for their gain.

I was on borrowed time for the next decade. I'd disguise my deafness, but I'd experience intermittent silence; sound; grief; insecurity; fear; isolation; and unromantic solitude - a refugee road of sights; smells; tastes; feelings; self-taught lip-reading; memories; bluffing; guessing; apologizing and improved prescience. Leah would have an angry, changed husband, and my children would have a deaf father who'd never hear them weep nor whisper. I'd learn about bits of me slowly dying; deaf apartheid; disability; rare spurts of others' compassion; and Leahs' love. Leah would be patient, kind, and a great mime, with her own invented sign-language. Leah had the kindest heart I ever knew, which she inherited from her mother.

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