the last words Paul Nanyeni heard was his brother telling a neighour: “We are taking Paul to the clinic.”
That was 15 years ago now and since then Paul has never been able to follow a conversation with his ears again.
After he fell ill with malaria which stole his hearing, young Paul refused to go to Eluwa Special School, in Ongwediva hoping that his hearing would return.
“I was certain my hearing would come back but nothing happened. Sometimes I felt so bad for not being able to communicate .The doctor told me it was impossible for me to go to a normal school. I almost died. I said no. I do not want to go to a deaf school so I waited for my hearing (to return),” said Paul with a distant look in his eyes.
From January to April 1998, Paul stayed home sick but still his hearing did not return and still he refused to go to a special school.
Paul shook his head emotionally when he indicated how he felt about going to Eluwa Special School and how his first day was like.
“I never wanted to be associated with disabled people. Hooooo, it was very difficult. I did not want to sign. I did not want friends who were deaf. I did not want to eat their food. I did not want anything from them. I just wanted to go home,” he exclaimed.
But as time went on, he found himself extremely interested in sign language, breathlessly chasing teachers for extra lessons.
“There were teachers who could hear; who encouraged me to learn and join the other students. So once I started learning, I could not stop myself. I even made friends and suddenly I did not feel so lonely,” he said wiping his face to hide a wave of blushing.
For two years he had the time of his life then one day it dawned upon him that Eluwa was the only school for the deaf in Namibia but it only offered up to grade 10 which would mean he may never finish school.
“I spoke to my friend Gideon who was hard of hearing, Gideon if we all pass grade 11 what are we going ot do with ourselves? Can you inform all the deaf so that we stage a demonstration. Tell them, no school tomorrow,” Paul said his eyes twinkling with nostalgia.
But their revolution was shortlived, teachers got word of their intended toy toy and started interrogated students to get behind who instigated the whole operation.
By the next day it was clear who the culprits was and soon Paul the deaf and his friend Gideon find themselves summoned to the office.
“We found ourselves in the office, teachers telling us that there is a big problem. One teacher told us. ‘Paul, you and Gideon is that big problem’. So the teachers who could hear started questioning Gideon who was hard of hearing but I was totally deaf and I could not follow the discussion. I was very frustrated with how they conducted it so when they turned to me to tell them what happened I refused. I could not speak because I did not hear a word Gideon said so our stories would be different. I just kept quiet,” he said with an adamant beam as he folds his arms.
“Then the driver and the principal took Gideon to the Oshakati Police station and returned after a while to question me again. The principal told me ‘ Paul just talk to free yourself. But I replied, ‘No, I am free I am not in custody,’ so they send us out.”
The next year he found himself the only deaf person amongst a mass of completely sensed pupils at Ekulu Secondary School.
“ I would just be reading, I did not hear a thing. When the teacher said ‘you are making noise, I just thought to myself, ‘ really, that is not my problem,” he said with a chuckle.
Paul attended grade 11 and 12 without the assistance of an interpreter and passed Grade 12 with 33 points.
Then came university where he would endure a bitter sweet stay.
“The first week at Unam was terrible and funny now that I think of it. I had a timetable but no idea where classes were. For the first week I ran up and down only to find every class after hours of search and lectures concluded. I decided that it would be best for me to search for friends who can help me, so I found friends and followed them.”
Once he settled in a routine and familirised himself with the location of lectures, he realised lecturers were not aware that they had a deaf person in class and had no idea what to do.
“One man advised me to come to class with a voice recorder, I was so surprised and asked him, ‘How will I hear the recorder. I am deaf?’
So I just followed lecturers and met up with them after class asking them to copy their lesson on paper and give it to me before the class so that I could follow,” he said adding that some teachers were not quite keen but a Ms February decided to take responsibility of his fate so she requested lessons and notes from lecturers.
“As the year went by, I received support from classmates who assisted me with notes. So second year came and in my third year I found a woman from America(aunty Suzie) who told me about the Cognia Implant, but advised that I must first get an amplifier and a hearing aid, telling me that if I hear the beat of my heart it will help,” he said noting that when he went for an onthology test it showed that his hearing was totally off.
“When she told the doctors that they must give me a Cognia Implant I became very scared because I did not know what it was. But when I started to do research on it, I realised that it was not the end of the world,” Paul said.
So just a few hours after his birthday (16 July 2006) he found himself under the scalpel in a strange bed in California miles away from his home in Omuthiya.
“The first sound I heard when I woke up after the operation was when uncle Mike called my name. When I turned to look at him, everyone started clapping and laughing,” he said proudly.
He tells me while propping himself up on his chair that he can now hear a sound of a plane and loves Mariah Carey’s We Belong Together.
“That was my first CD I bought and I played it over and over again. My second CD was Tracy Chapmans’ New Beginning, the song where she sings about True Love,” he says telling me that he would listen to and sing along to these tracks with his fiance.
Then he jumps up waving and signing that he I should not forget Emancipation of Mimi by Mariah Carey.”
But then the revolutionist in him soon re-appear when he plead for better treatment for the deaf.
“You know for us, there is only one meaning for the deaf. So imagine when the deaf reads, that the plea for a new hospital in Omithiya fell on deaf ears. All the deaf now thinks. Aha, there is a hospital for the deaf in Omithiya. And there is no-one who can interpret this to them,” he said sadly.
Paul said his new fight is to get a deaf person in the parliament so that deaf people can be considered. He also promised me that should we meet in the next three to five years , I must address him as Dr. Paul.
The past 15 years was uphill but it just pushed him more to realise his dream to become a teacher. He is now a proud teacher at the Moreson School for mentally impaired children in Khomasdal.
“I am so happy one of my students passed Geography with a C last year. For children who learn slowly it is a major achievement,” he said