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The Lost Deaf Men (and Women) of Cambodia

The men (and occasionally, a woman) show up at the entrance of Deaf Development Programme, standing uncertainly by the corrugated steel gate, downcast eyes on their feet, as the person who brought them to DDP speaks to the elderly guard at the painted wooden desk just inside. They are often picked up from the streets, mostly by the riverside, by a good Samaritan who then bundles them into a tuk-tuk to bring them to DDP.

Deaf-Hearing Marriages in Cambodia

It all began with a funny story, followed by an innocent question about who sleeps where. Seeing Srey’s embarrassed expression, I wished I hadn’t asked. Srey is deaf and her husband is hearing. He doesn’t know Cambodian Sign Language and has no desire to learn. Srey is not the only one. This particular marriage, arranged by Srey’s parents, is one of many marriages in Cambodia arranged by parents who don’t want their deaf child to marry another deaf person.

Structural Violence and the Vulnerable In Cambodia

My first brush with the medical system in Cambodia was in late November when a close friend had to suddenly leave a luncheon she was hosting at her house to interpret for someone at a hospital. She told us to please stay, continue eating and drinking. It didn’t occur to me that the situation at the hospital might involve a friend of mine, who was about to go through one of the worst experiences of her life. In late January, another deaf friend was almost cremated alive after being declared dead by her doctors.

Devastation on the Roads of Cambodia

Just before I left Phnom Penh to travel to Laos, a gruesome photograph appeared in my Facebook newsfeed of a young man, laying on a hospital gurney with his eyes closed, intubated, arm dangling and covered in bandages, blood seeping through the linen. This image, posted by his sister, was accompanied by a desperate plea, “Please, brother, please live!”

Counting Chickens and Pigs

Many deaf people living in rural Cambodia wait with great anticipation for visits from the Deaf Development Programme outreach teams. Often, it is the only opportunity they have to communicate in sign language.

My Name Is…

This was one of the very few opportunities I had during fieldwork to observe contexts in which it was possible that some of the people involved would be seeing sign language for the first time. Over two days, I observed how transformative being with other deaf people and having a shared sign language was for these students. It began with learning their names in sign language.

Searching for Deaf People

In the bluish early morning light, we gathered by the gate of Deaf Development Programme (DDP) with our provisions of fully-charged smartphones, water, face masks, cameras and scarves for what promised to be a long day. The four of us, a teacher, an interpreter, a deaf interpreter and a tag-along anthropologist, climbed into a tuk-tuk and set off, navigating the morning traffic on our way to find deaf people in the villages.

Creating a Language by Committee

On the white board, nine words in Khmer are listed in blue. In the cool, dim room, members of the Cambodian Sign Language committee are seated at an oval conference table scattered with the various implements essential to their work—iced coffee sweetened by condensed milk, a Khmer-English dictionary, pencils and paper. Papers ruffle on the table as a breeze surges through the barred window, slightly swinging the heavy green shutters. Over the next three hours, the committee will invent four new signs.

Tracking the Origins of Cambodian Sign Language

Chamroeun spun through the centuries, acting out battles with Siam, the fall of the Angkor Empire, the arrival of the French, and then independence. As we entered modernity, Chamroeun became Lon Nol, the U.S.-backed Prime Minister deposed in 1975, then King Sihanouk in exile in China, and finally, a Khmer Rouge solider. His epic performance concludes with an reenactment of the 1979 Vietnamese invasion. As Cambodian history unfolded before my eyes, I couldn’t help but think about its implications for deaf people.

Ingenuity in Cross-Cultural Communication

What happens when a shared language is not an option for communication? Body parts become elements of a narrative. Rocking hands, sweeping arms, and finger-pointing compose a story. Chronicles are laboriously written out in ballpoint ink on the hand. Nearby objects, such as maps, become visual tools to find your way towards a mutual understanding.

Fish Uses Sign Language With Other Species

The coral grouper communicates with other ocean predators to find prey—a surprising ability for a fish, a new study says.

Elephants Communicate in Sophisticated Sign Language, Researchers Say

  Elephants may use a variety of subtle movements and gestures to communicate with one another, according to researchers who have studied the big mammals in the wild for decades. To the casual human observer, a curl of the trunk, a step backward, or a fold of the ear may not have meaning. But to…

Top 10 Headlines Today: Fish Use Sign Language, Flu Outbreak Mapped…

On our radar today: Predatory reef fish use sign language to communicate with fellow hunters, researchers have mapped the H7N9 avian flu outbreak’s current locations and its potential spread, and…