Deaf Travel13th October 2013

Women and Deaf People - Breaking Down International Barriers

Tessa Padden from Signworld visited Iran and here she describes her experience

by Tessa Padden

The Iranian driver laughed when I shrieked, as we whizzed about among the mad motorists of Tehran! I’ve been a nervous car passenger ever since a collision with a bull in New Zealand thirty years ago. But I’ve never seen drivers anywhere who seemed more determined to frighten me out of my wits than last year in Iran.

Anyway, my driver took it in good humour – it was all right for him! And I suppose anything that brings laughter is one way of helping to overcome communication barriers.

It’s often said that women are better communicators than men. I’m sure that’s not always true, but there have been some outstanding examples of women who have made an impact at international level in areas that may have been more difficult for men.

One example was Princess Diana’s campaign against land mines twenty years ago. It’s hard to imagine a man getting the message across in quite the way she did.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many countries in connection with my work in the Deaf community, and I must say I’ve met lots of Deaf men who were just as open-minded and easy to communicate with as women. One of these was a young man from Iran, whom I met at the WFD conference in South Africa in 2011. His name was Ardavan Guity – or Ardy to his friends.

The Iranian Deaf Association later invited me to go and deliver some training to Deaf people and sign language interpreters in Iran last year, and it proved one of the most eye-opening and interesting trips I’ve ever had.

I was met at the airport by Ardy and his family and spent the next few days in the Tehran flat shared by Ardy, his Deaf parents and sister Katayoon (Katy). What a lovely family, and how welcome they made me feel.

I didn’t know any Iranian Sign Language before I went, and they knew no BSL. But like Deaf people everywhere, we were soon able to communicate about most things. Deaf people in Iran face the same kind of barriers as others around the world. But above all, they have the same joy in sharing the company of other Deaf people that we all do.

I loved watching the banter between Ardy, Katy and their Dad, about Katy’s new cat. Her Dad started off not liking it, but when it got lost in the park two days later, he was the most distraught of all, running all over the place looking for it. Some things are the same all over the world!

But some things vary widely. One of them is food. I loved the fresh meat and vegetables that they bought daily from the market, especially the delicious pomegranate seeds and flower petals they mixed with everything.

Another big difference is dress customs. As a woman, I had to keep my head covered in public, which could be punishing, as the temperature was often about 40 degrees Centigrade!

Wherever I went in Iran, I visited Deaf people. And the welcome was always the same – warm, friendly and joyful. Whatever the differences in culture, I learned yet again how much people have in common, regardless of where they are from.

In April, my partner Linda Day and I, have been invited to deliver a presentation in another Islamic country – Saudi Arabia. Politically, it’s very different from Iran, but probably just as little understood in the West. I hope our visit there can do a little to improve understanding between our cultures.

I do hope the drivers in Riyadh are just a bit less mad than in Tehran!

Article by Tessa Padden

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Travel

13th October 2013