Tuesday, July 13, 2010
What does the jungle sound like? So many things. It sounds like katydids telling each other where to look for food, the smoky jungle frog bellowing for a mate, mosquitos hungry for blood, piranhas leaping out of the muddy brown Amazon and flopping into a dugout canoe, machetes striking a yucca root and a wayward parrot who screams, “Quiero Comer!! (I want to eat in Spanish)” in the middle of the night.
On one day this weekend, the Peruvian jungle was filled with soccer fans cheering over their radios and generator powered televisions as Spain won the World Cup.
What does the jungle sound like to someone with less than perfect hearing? To someone who was born entirely deaf like 17-year old Jentry Taylor (at left), who now lives with two cochlear implants? Well because of the technology Taylor brought with her to Peru, it sounds exactly like it sounds to someone with full hearing. She can hear everything listed above and Taylor says at least three times a day, “nothing in the entire world compares to this.”
That’s exactly why Taylor is here.
She is traveling with me as part of Hear the World’s Global Explorer’s trip, which brought a group of mixed hearing students 50 miles north of Iquitos, the main Amazon port in Peru reachable only by boat and plane, to experience sound and debunk the myths surrounding hearing loss and folks with the disability.
What was clear after arriving at the Explorama Lodges, a nearly 50-year-old eco-lodge in the remote rainforest, was that the group, as most groups are, was divided into two factions, the outgoing and the introverted — the loud and the quiet. The deaf kids (despite having technology that boosts their hearing to natural levels) just seemed quieter than kids who can hear.
“We’re quiet because we’re trying to listen and we’re trying to stay focused and be engaged. I usually don’t interrupt because it ruins the whole listening process,” Taylor explains. “You don’t want to miss it unless you have something really important to say.”
Group leader, adventurer and inspirational speaker Bill Barkeley (at right), a victim of Usher syndrome which has caused him to lose most of his sight and hearing, says the kids with hearing loss will always be quieter. But the point of this adventure in the jungle is to encourage them to use their voices.
“You can’t let them get away with being quiet all the time. The point of this trip is to find out what’s really on their minds and what they’re thinking about,” Barkeley says.
One of the things they are thinking is that Barkeley, who you’ll never see without a gigantic smile on his face, is a man they absolutely idolize. The students on this trip who have never dealt with hearing loss may look at Barkeley like he’s just another adult chaperoning them around the jungle. But the deaf kids see this man, who defied the odds and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years ago, as a personal hero.
“People said to me, you’re deaf and blind, why would you want to go to the Amazon? You can’t see it or hear it,” Barkley says. “I said 'I want to hear the sounds of the Amazon and I want to see the jungle.' And I am going to do both of those things.”
With the help of two cochlear implants, a variety of microphones and technical devices, including a night vision scope that transforms the jovial trekker into cyborg, Barkeley can hear almost everything a person with perfect hearing can hear.
For a sunrise bird watching and listening expedition, Barkeley brought a suitcase of remote listening devices that leveled the playing field for listening.
And even though his field of vision is only about 10 percent of optimal, he negotiated a jungle floor filled with an intricate web of buttress roots, poison dart frogs and tarantulas as if it were no challenge at all during a two-hour trek that left this clumsy reporter face down in the mud. Did I mention he did it in the black of night?
“Bill just doesn’t want us to miss anything,” Jentry says. “And it’s so great to have someone looking out for the deaf kids and thinking about us. He knows all about the technology and he wants to make sure we hear everything.”
And there is so much to hear.
“It’s so much more alive here than being home. Down here you hear something every second,” says 17-year old Gary Quenzer (at left), who hears with the help of two hearing aids.
“None of the sounds are annoying. They all make you stop and turn and try to find what it actually is.”
In the Amazon, the jungle is constantly talking to you, if, like these kids, you are willing to be quiet enough to listen.