When did you lose your hearing ability?
It happened between December 19, 1999 and January 3, 2000. It was a gradual thing.
How did it happen?
I travelled with my siblings to my maternal home for Christmas and New Year’s Day. While there, I had a slight fever. I had a cold and a temperature which didn’t last up to two days. Everyone attributed it to a change of environment as that was the first time we were away from home on our own.
My grandmother gave me paracetamol to reduce the temperature and I got better but not without noticing a ringing in my ears, going on and off.
At first when I walked, it sounded like ‘dum dum’ as if there was water in my ears. If I stopped walking, it stopped ringing.
With the sound came the inability to clearly hear. My uncles and aunts felt I was pretending not to hear them but it was no pretence. I couldn’t hear them.
On January 3, 2000, my dad came over to take us back home as school was to resume on January 7. I was to resume for first term in Junior Secondary School II.
The supposed pretence followed me home and to school which earned me slaps, knocks and severe beatings (from my mum) and flogging from teachers. Because everyone thought I was pretending, they all wanted to beat out the stubborn and rebellious spirit that was blocking my ears.
What was your personal feeling about the development?
Personally, I was wondering what was happening to me. It isn’t that I couldn’t hear at all, but I couldn’t hear if they didn’t shout or face me so I could see the face of the person talking to me. I guess my lip-reading journey started from there. If you want to talk to me, get my attention, face me so that I can see you and we are good to go.
My teachers suddenly found me strange – I mean, a bright pupil taking 6th position out of 106 pupils suddenly taking 56th. A pupil who loved dictations suddenly couldn’t keep up again. Well, it was indeed strange, even to me. I became so depressed as a result of that.
How did the hearing impairment affect your childhood?
It wasn’t funny at all. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. The kids I normally played with, including adults and grown-ups in the neighborhood, made it even more depressing for me – the mockery, jests and absurd games.
Some adults who clearly understood my challenge then found it funny. They would throw sticks, stones, sand, and even broom at me, pretending that they were trying to call me. I became a laughing stock and the neighbourhood ‘deafie’. In fact, my name changed from Emily to ‘Oyiehor’ – deaf ear. You will hear them screaming ‘Oyiehor ooo, your mum is calling you’, or if they wanted to be wicked, they would pour water on me or stone me with anything and say ‘‘Oyiehor’, is it not you I’m calling?’
How did your parents react to that?
My mother, for instance, didn’t find it funny at all. She fought a lot of people because of that stupid name. The pretence of not hearing was becoming too much for her to bear. ‘She don beat me tire to change, but the stubborn demon strong o’ (She beat me seriously to get me to hear but the supposed demon blocking my ears didn’t let up). Mum had to sit me down and ask, “Emily, tell me the truth. Are you pretending or should I be worried?” I started crying and said, ‘Mummy, do you really think I would be pretending to this extent just to avoid doing chores? I don’t know what’s happening to me, Mum. There is a persistent sound in my ears and a ‘dum dum’ sound as if there is water moving in my ears when I walk. I’m tired of the mockery and the flogging. Can you please pray to God for me? If I sinned, He should forgive me.’
My mum started crying. I guess she mentally vowed to get a solution and protect me because our trips to pastors, churches and prayer groups started. My mum was a praying woman; you would wake up at night and see her praying, casting and binding (demons). But after that discussion with her, the prayer intensified. Most times when I woke up to have a pee, I saw her praying. I would kneel beside her and be praying too. I learnt how to pray at midnight from her. In fact, I learnt how to pray from her.
On some nights that I missed praying with her, my siblings and I would wake up with olive oil on us, but I got extra – my ears would be shining. And if my father was around, she would baptise him with the oil too. She had certain spiritual gifts which I later discovered was a part of me too.
As for my dad understanding my challenge, forget it; he didn’t understand at all. He still thought it was pretence as he was always away because of his job. I was beaten very well until Mum sat him down and told him if beating would cure me, the ones she, my teachers and others had given me would have cured me. Dad became sober but I don’t really think he still understood totally until years later.
I was born into a family of six. My mother and sister passed on in 2004 and 2006 respectively. It is 16 years this April that my mother died and it still feels like yesterday. I’m the oldest child; I have two brothers.
As a kid, what were the difficulties you faced while interacting with other children?
No one wanted to mix with the neighbourhood ‘Oyiehor’ (deaf person) except to make fun of her.
Did some children see you as a strange person?
Oh yes! Some parents even stopped their kids from playing with me. Well, I did not see it as a problem as books had already become my friends. I read, read and read anything from novels to Christian literature, to science books, etc. It was during the period I finished reading my first science book, ‘Where there is no doctor’. This book made me fall in love with medicine. In fact, I wanted to become a doctor. Oh, yeah! I was and am still in love with the profession but I was flunking chemistry, mathematics and physics.
I just didn’t seem to understand how to find ‘pi’ or ‘x’, or the neurons and protons. Those were just confusing, maybe probably coupled with the fact that my teacher didn’t like me unless to indirectly call me an ‘olodo’ (dullard). Why wouldn’t I be an ‘olodo’ when I couldn’t even hear what you were saying, let alone understand it? But I excelled in other subjects.
How did your parents and siblings support you?
My mother, God rest her soul, became my fighter and defender against bullies. After she passed on, my brothers stood up for me. They became my ears. Funnily enough, if someone asked me a question in their presence and I couldn’t understand it, my brothers would repeat what was said and instantly I would get it.
Did you attend a special school?
I attended a regular school all through. I didn’t even know there was anything like special schools until a few years ago when I had already earned a degree in Banking and Finance.
What do you do now?
Currently, I’m not employed but I’m into a lot of things as long as they are legal and can put food on my table.
I’m a banker by profession (not practising at the moment); although, I did work with First City Monument Bank briefly in 2017.
Along the years, I have acquired some skills through training, and I’m also a writer and speaker. I write, speak and teach. I also cook and deliver to busy folks. These are the things I do to earn a living. Basically, I’m into catering, data selling, production of disinfectants, baking and small chops. I’m a jack of all trades and master of all. ‘Don’t mind me, man has got to eat’.
Many people with disabilities face challenges while studying. What was the most painful challenge you faced in school?
My sojourn at the University of Benin wasn’t easy at all. In the university, lecturers didn’t write on the board, and I couldn’t take dictation. But I thank God for my friends – Peace Orikhi and Joy Iredia – both now married. They became my ears and their books became my blackboard. I wrote as they were writing. And should I be unlucky to get asked a question or if a lecturer said something I didn’t catch, they quickly texted it to me or wrote it down for me so I could understand what was going on. After classes, I updated my notes, bought handouts and made photocopies. Then I studied like my life depended on it. It really wasn’t easy. There were times I became very depressed; I just felt like (I was) not good enough. I remember in 300 level, my boyfriend then broke up with me. I just wanted to die. There was no reason, no excuse, nothing. I got an invitation to his wedding.
I became very depressed. My grades started dropping. From A’s and B’s, I started getting E’s and carry-overs.
In fact, I made up my mind after the last semester in 300 level not to resume for 400 level. I had no friends except Peace and Joy; my mum was long gone, and my sister too. My dad was away as usual. When my boyfriend broke up with me, it was so lonely.
On the day I made my mind to drop out of school after my 300 level examination, I walked into a course lecturer’s office to buy a textbook. In fact, I was pissed off that day. How would I buy a textbook I already had just because of a photocopied question on a sheet of paper that came along with the book? N3,000 was huge for me. My teaching salary was N6,000 monthly and I had to sell fish, make beads, and organise private lessons for primary school pupils to earn some money. And that lecturer was telling me to buy a book I already had. Coupled with my heartbreak, I didn’t care about what happened to me anymore. I felt the lecturer would just have to sell only the questions to me because I didn’t have any money to waste.
My siblings also needed money to assist them with sometimes. I said to myself, “I’m not giving any lecturer money. If that is what will make me fail, then so be it.”
Have you suffered discrimination due to your condition?
Yes, a lot of times. Getting passed up for jobs I was qualified for because the employer can’t be bothered to raise their voice or repeat themselves. It is indeed very painful being passed up for a job just because of my hearing impairment.
What is the best way to interact with a person with hearing impairment?
Face them when speaking and talk to them. Don’t talk behind them or startle them and certainly, do not scream at them, it is very rude. If using sign language isn’t possible, kindly write it down for them. And on no account should you hit them or throw stuff at them with the excuse that you are trying to get their attention. That is just plain rude, stupid and disrespectful. Treat all with respect.
What was your aspiration as a child?
I wanted to become a doctor. And I also wanted to be a pastor/motivational speaker.
While I may not be a doctor or pastor right now, I love to teach, speak and write. I guess part of my childhood dream is still coming through.
Do you think your hearing impairment affected your dream and aspiration in life?
Maybe but I really can’t say. The only thing that can stop you from truly becoming what you desire is you. If you want it badly, you will work it out even more.
What is the most painful thing your condition has taken away from you?
I can’t think of any right now but I know I have lost lots of relationships because of it.
It’s believed that we learn from our experiences. What has your condition taught you about life?
Nothing can stop you unless you let it. Deaf people can do anything except hearing. And it can’t stop you, unless you let it.
Did your inability to hear improve any or some of your other sense organs?
Oh yes, my sense of smell, feeling (instinct), are reading body language are great. And I have learnt to always listen to them – they have saved me a lot.
What are the other things you’ve achieved in spite of your condition?
I am just starting to discover a whole new world, thanks to Deaf Women Association of Nigeria. I didn’t even know there were a lot of people having hearing challenge, until I got introduced to the deaf world. I met a lot of deaf people at once. Doctors, lawyers, activists, journalists, etc., then I knew I wasn’t alone. I never have to be alone, I didn’t commit any sin that blocked my ears, life just happened. Even though my deafness isn’t 100 per cent, the challenges aren’t different from those who theirs is 100 per cent. I know now I never have to hide myself, I can be me and still soar!
How has blogging and your banking and finance training helped you in life?
Writing is how I offload and release my mind. My blog was gifted to me by one of Nollywood’s photography star. He has been silently reading my Facebook updates daily without fail. He told me the day he opened it for me. He said, ‘Emily your write-up is one of the things that keep me going. When I wake up every day, I go straight to your Facebook wall to get my daily dose of inspiration for that day. I am gifting you this blog so that you can write and keep inspiring a lot of us who follow and read you secretly. Truly your write-ups inspire hope and give one the dose one needs to get through the day.’ I was shocked!
Did your inability to hear affect your relationship with men?
Yes, like I said earlier, I lost a lot of relationships because of it. And so, poorly raised men felt they were doing me a favour being with me because to them, I was incomplete. One even had the guts to ask who would accept me, that I should know I was incomplete and that he was doing me a favour by being with me. They thought it was okay to physically and verbally abuse and assault me, until I showed them I wasn’t down for such nonsense.