Table of contents
Table of contents
Podcast S7 E4 | 34 min

Moving Through Deaf Worlds

22 May 2024
An anthropologist sets out to better understand the experience of a deaf migrant.

Why do people migrate from one country to another, leaving behind friends, family, and familiarity in search of another life elsewhere? And how might their experiences look different if they are deaf? Ala’ Al-Husni is a deaf Jordanian who moved to Japan five years ago, where he still lives with his deaf Japanese wife and their family just outside of Tokyo.

Reported by Timothy Y. Loh, a hearing anthropologist who researches deaf communities in the Arabic-speaking Middle East, this episode explores the joys, pains, and unexpected gains of Ala’s journey and the meaning of deaf migration in a globalizing world.

Timothy Y. Loh

Timothy Y. Loh is an anthropologist of science and technology, and a Ph.D. candidate in history, anthropology, and science, technology, and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. His ethnographic research examines sociality, language, and religion in deaf and signing worlds spanning Jordan, Singapore, and the United States. His research has been published in Medical Anthropology, SAPIENS Anthropology Magazine, and Somatosphere, and he has received support from the Social Science Research Council, the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation, among others.

We thank Annelies Kusters, Laura Mauldin, and Kate McAuliff for advice on accessibility for this episode.

Check out these related resources:

SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is produced by House of Pod. The executive producers were Cat Jaffee and Chip Colwell. This season’s host was Eshe Lewis, who is the director of the SAPIENS Public Scholars Training Fellowship program. Dennis Funk was the audio editor and sound designer. Christine Weeber was the copy editor.

SAPIENS is an editorially independent magazine of the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the University of Chicago Press. SAPIENS: A Podcast for Everything Human is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

This episode is part of the SAPIENS Public Scholars Training Fellowship program, which provides in-depth training for anthropologists in the craft of science communication and public scholarship, funded with the support of a three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Read a transcript of this episode

Intro Vox pop waterfall: What makes us human?

Vox pop waterfall  [00:00:25] A very beautiful day.

Vox pop waterfall [00:00:27] Little termite farm. Things that create wonder.

Vox pop waterfall [00:00:30] Social media.

Vox pop waterfall [00:00:31] Forced migration. Let me give you stone tools, a hydropower dam.

Vox pop waterfall [00:00:37] Pandora DNA, earthquakes and volcanoes coming in from Mars. The first cyborg. Let’s find out. Sapiens. Podcast for everything human.

Eshe Lewis [00:00:31] When a deaf Jordanian moves to Japan, what are his experiences living in a new place? What opportunities and challenges does he face? In this episode, I speak with Tim Loh, an anthropologist who studies the politics of deafness and disability in the Middle East.

Tim Loh [00:00:47] I did my interview in sign, which I’ll talk a little bit about later, but the quotes you’ll be hearing from this episode were made in sign, and I then translated them into English, and then they were read aloud by my friend Omar.

Eshe Lewis [00:01:06] Hi there. Do you want to introduce yourself?

Tim Loh [00:01:09] Yeah, for sure. My name is Timothy Loh and I am a PhD candidate in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society, HASTS for short, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Eshe Lewis [00:01:22] Okay. What kind of research do you do?

Tim Loh [00:01:25] So the research I’m doing for my dissertation, which I’m completing right now, is about different kinds of assistive technologies for deaf people in Jordan, and that includes both medical-rehabilitative devices like cochlear implants, as well as non-medical devices such as sign language mobile applications.

Eshe Lewis [00:01:43] Okay, that sounds really interesting. But that’s not what this episode is about, right?

Tim Loh [00:01:49] No, I decided to do this episode instead about the story of deaf migration, although, of course, assistive technologies also play a role in that story, which I will talk about later as well.

Eshe Lewis [00:02:02] And why did you want to talk about this?

Tim Loh [00:02:05] Yeah, I wanted to talk about this really because I think that the story of deaf migration is a really interesting one. I think it goes against a lot of stereotypes that lots of people have about deaf people being kind of stagnant, non-agentive in some ways, but I think that stories of deaf migration and mobility go against these stereotypes. You know, through these stories, we see that deaf people have agency and make a lot of decisions despite the, kind of, structural barriers that they face.

Tim Loh [00:02:41] And there’s also really been a lot of recent research about this, a lot of which has been deaf-led as well, which I think is particularly meaningful. So there’s a big project called MobileDeaf at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and they just concluded this project in which they produced a ton of articles and a bunch of short films as well about deaf migrants. I think they looked at deaf people who move for love or for marriage, deaf people who move for work, deaf people who are in situations of forced migration, as well as deaf people as tourists.

Eshe Lewis [00:03:22] So from what I know, you are going to be focusing on a particular person. Why do you want to focus this story on Ala?

Tim Loh [00:03:33] So, Ala’ is a really interesting person. I mean, he and I, we’ve known each other for many years. I met him on my first ever visit to Jordan in 2014. At that time, I went to a deaf school and he was in 11th grade and I was a sophomore in college, kind of dipping my toes into anthropological research for the first time. And so we’ve stayed friends and it’s been really interesting to see his journey over the years.

Tim Loh [00:04:02] I think, you know, this story, I really wanted to focus on the story of a deaf migrant from Jordan and/or from the broader Middle East and what could be unique about that experience. In some ways, it’s not that common for a deaf Jordanian to move to somewhere like Japan where Ala’ is living now. You know, the deaf people in Jordan that I know who move often move to places like Dubai, or other parts of the United Arab Emirates, or the US, and it was interesting that Ala’ decided to move to Japan.

Tim Loh [00:04:35] And in some ways, I saw my own journey kind of reflected in his as well, in that, you know, there are not many people who look like me in Jordan. I’m Singaporean of Chinese descent, I was born and raised in Southeast Asia, and then my dissertation research takes place in Jordan and the Middle East, and that’s pretty unusual. So, in some ways, I think I was especially interested in Ala’s story because of that.

Tim Loh [00:05:00] So, Ala’ now lives in Japan with his wife. She is also deaf, and her family is deaf as well, and they live right outside of Tokyo. And two years ago, I went to Osaka for a conference on sign language research and I extended that trip, ended up spending a little bit of time in Tokyo, and actually stayed with his family. So I think that was really fun and meaningful for that reason.

Eshe Lewis [00:05:27] Well, that’s so cool. So did Ala move for love?

Tim Loh [00:05:32] Yeah, so I mean, he moved in some ways because of his wife. And so he did move for love, but that was only part of the reason, it wasn’t the whole reason. So here’s Ala talking about his experience.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:05:47] One of the reasons was love, but it was not just that. It was love, as well as good accessibility, I found it an easy place to live, and so on. So it was for all those reasons taken together that I decided to move. If there was good work and good accessibility in Jordan, I would want to move back there and bring my wife with me as well.

Tim Loh [00:06:10] I think, as he was telling me, for Ala’, the accessibility part of his journey was really key. Japanese companies are more used to hiring disabled people than companies elsewhere, especially in Jordan. And there are, you know, financial incentives for them to do so, for example, like they get tax breaks from the government. But what he also appreciated is that they tend not to hire just one person, but they hire kind of a cluster of disabled employees.

Tim Loh [00:06:39] And in some ways, I think that makes it pretty different from the American context, for example, where, with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a little bit more focused on individuals with disabilities. And in Japan, it seems like there are also laws that protect disabled employees and makes it difficult to fire them. And what Ala’ saw that was pretty in contrast to what he was seeing in Jordan is that disabled employees in Jordanian companies tend to be a bit more isolated.

Tim Loh [00:07:12] So for example, it might be one deaf person or one disabled person working in a company where everyone else is able-bodied or hearing. And he also found that, you know, deaf employees tend to be pigeonholed into certain kinds of professions: you know, carpentry, tailoring, car repair, and deaf education, and things of that nature.

Eshe Lewis [00:07:35] Can you tell me why that might be? Like, why those jobs in particular?

Tim Loh [00:07:39] Yeah, I think there’s certainly stereotypes about deaf people’s suitability for certain kinds of labor, and especially, in some ways, menial labor. I mean, I think we see that in carpentry, tailoring, car repair, those kinds of jobs. Deaf education, I guess, is a little bit exceptional in that it, I guess, the assumption there is that because someone is deaf, they will be able to teach deaf students in a better way.

Tim Loh [00:08:10] But what was interesting in some ways is that in my own research that I did for my dissertation, I visited a number of the public deaf schools and the two private schools for deaf people in Jordan. And even in those places, I didn’t see that many deaf people who are working as teachers. They would be working, for example, in other parts of the school, but not many of them were given kind of full teaching positions.

Eshe Lewis [00:08:36] Okay. Can you tell me more about Ala’s journey?

Tim Loh [00:08:41] Yeah, so Ala’s journey is a little bit convoluted, I guess. We met in 2014 when I was doing some research at a deaf school. He finished that high school and realized that university options for himself were a little bit limited. So, for example, if he wanted to study something for which interpreters would be available.

Tim Loh [00:09:03] I think the two options he had were either sports or special education. And he wasn’t really interested in either of those things. And if he wanted to study other subjects, such as IT, there would not be interpreters available. He thought about going overseas to pursue further education, and he was certainly prioritizing places that he thought he would have good accessibility. And so he thought about the US, found that it was a place that had good access because of the ADA,

Tim Loh [00:09:37] but that it was a really expensive place to go. And sort of by coincidence, there was a Japanese person who came to Jordan. This Japanese person who was hearing wanted to make an app for sign language translation and so was doing a bit of, like, a information gathering trip to various deaf communities in different places. And so he got into contact with Ala’s father who runs a deaf association—and Ala’s father is also deaf—and so this Japanese man encouraged Ala’ to consider Japan.

Tim Loh [00:10:15] And Ala’ looked into it and saw that, you know, university fees were cheaper in Japan and they also tend to include room and board. And so he was interested and then found out from the Japanese university that he had to know Japanese in order to attend this university. And so he started learning Japanese at a language center in Amman, and he studied it for about six months in Jordan, eventually got his certificate, and that was in 2016. And so he decided to go, he went to Japan and began studying at this university, but decided to leave after about three or four months.

Tim Loh [00:10:56] He found it really tough, I guess, because it was certainly a very different cultural context, but also there were actually no interpreters in this university course that he was studying. And the other deaf people in the class that were with him had cochlear implants. And so the course was primarily delivered through spoken language. And then so he decided to leave after three or four months at this university, but he kept in touch with this hearing Japanese person who recruited him to join a project that he was working on in Japan.

Tim Loh [00:11:36] And so Ala did and for a period of time was working on this project and would fly back and forth between the two countries, between Japan and Jordan. And during that time, he met his now-wife while volunteering as an interpreter for an international deaf sporting competition. And he and his wife kept in contact and chatted for about a year before deciding to get married, and that was in 2019, and since then, Ala has been settled in Japan and he recently began a new job in business leadership and works remotely from home.

Eshe Lewis [00:12:15] We’ll hear more from Tim after the break.

Eshe Lewis [00:00:01] Can you explain what a cochlear implant is?

Tim Loh [00:00:04] Yeah, so the cochlear implant is a medical device that’s implanted via surgery, and it provides electronic access to sound. It comprises two components, so there’s an internal component that is put into the person’s head during the surgical procedure, and there’s an external processor, which has a magnet.

Tim Loh [00:00:29] So essentially when you put on the cochlear implant, the sound gets channeled through the external processor and goes to the brain. It was a technology that was invented in the 1980s or so. The cochlear implant is now a medical device that has spread transnationally—up to 80% of deaf children in so-called developed countries get a cochlear implant.

Eshe Lewis [00:00:55] Okay. Thank you. So back to Ala’s story. What did he have to learn when he moved to Japan?

Tim Loh [00:01:03] So it was such a different context that I think certainly there were a lot of different things he had to learn when he moved there. And he had to learn not only how to manage his own affairs, but also specific skills, like Japanese, for example. So on the one hand, he learned to be more independent and to sort things out on his own. So for example, he would have to go to the bank and sort out his own banking situation when he was there.

Tim Loh [00:01:33] He also had to learn how to fill out government forms and things like that. And to do that, he leveraged, you know, new technologies that have become available in the last couple of years. So for example, he had a translation app on his phone, so when he went to the bank, the person would speak into this translation app and then it would automatically translate into written English or written Arabic.

Tim Loh [00:01:57] So I think that those technologies really kind of helped to ease his journey. But of course, you know, one of the things he had to learn when he moved there was the language. And so he had to learn Japanese—as mentioned before, he had spent about six months learning it in Jordan, but he had to continue that process. He learned Japanese primarily from his emails at work, for example, and, you know, texting back and forth with people.

Tim Loh [00:02:25] And it was a really, kind of, a sink-or-swim situation. And he actually told me, if you move here, you would pick it up too, which I thought was kind of funny. And, you know, I think Japanese for him is still pretty hard, but it’s really essential. He’s still learning it. He now rates himself upper intermediate and told me that he’s better at reading than at writing. But of course his situation, being a deaf person, he also had to learn Japanese sign language. And he learned that primarily from interacting with other deaf people. And he describes it here in his own words.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:02:58] When I moved here to Japan and started meeting deaf people, sometimes there would be miscommunications between us and so I would have to clarify what I meant—that’s how I learned signs. You know, I never studied Japanese Sign Language formally—it was just through “translating” between languages and socializing with deaf Japanese people. And, of course, when I met my wife, I learned even more because we interacted and video-called everyday. My Japanese Sign Language really developed from there. I think learning it wasn’t through studying it. There’s something innate in deaf people, you know, it’s easy for us to pick up signs from other people and you learn and develop your sign that way.

Eshe Lewis [00:03:39] So can I ask you a question? I think something that’s coming up for me when I think about the difference between English and Japanese. I think about two languages that are, you know, built on different systems, and so for someone who’s a native English speaker, there can be quite a learning curve, right, when it comes to learning to write characters or making different sounds that have nothing to do with any of the sounds that we might have, right? Um, so I’m wondering in terms of sign language differences between Jordan and Japan. What was that process like?

Tim Loh [00:04:25] I think this question is really interesting. And Ala’ describes that a little bit in this section as well.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:04:31] For hearing people to learn a new language, it takes a lot of practice and a lot of time, and it’s hard for them to pick up. But sign language is different because it’s visual and uses gesture too, so that sort of visual communication is possible.But does speaking have that visual element? It’s impossible. Maybe moving is easier for us than for hearing people.

Tim Loh [00:04:54] And this question is making me think about the actual experience of doing the interview with Ala’, which took place, kind of, in a combination of Jordanian Sign Language, American Sign Language, and International Sign—which I would not really describe as a language, but more as a series of communication strategies, which draws upon gesture, for example, or the more iconic nature of signed languages.

Tim Loh [00:05:23] And it’s borne out of this desire to communicate. And so when we’re trying to communicate with each other, we try to match each other and we stop to clarify if necessary. So for example, the sign for PAUSE in American Sign Language is two linked fingers pulling up. But the Jordanian sign for PAUSE, it looks like the pause button on a television, for example. And then so, when you’re communicating with someone who doesn’t share a sign language with you, sometimes you might try different kinds of signs or different kinds of gestures to get your meaning across.

Tim Loh [00:06:03] And then you also, kind of, adopt signs from each other. And so there’s been some really interesting research on this in linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics in the last couple of years in the kinds of communication strategies that deaf people who don’t share a sign language use to communicate with each other. So Mara Green, for example, talks about linguistic commensuration arising from a shared desire to communicate in international deaf spaces.

Tim Loh [00:06:36] And Erin Moriarty and Annelies Kusters have discussed “calibrating” as a kind of moral process where two users of a language try to calibrate to each other in order to make that communication happen. And, you know, communication, I think, also happens via friends, and so for SAPIENS Magazine, a deaf friend, Rachel Kolb, and I have also written about a strategy in which you try to communicate with someone else through a friend in situations where you might not share a sign language.

Eshe Lewis [00:07:10] I’m wondering about Ala’s community. Can you describe what it’s like in Japan? And maybe talk a bit about how he built the community that he’s part of now?

Tim Loh [00:07:24] Yeah, so, as Ala’ describes it, building community among deaf people tends to be a little bit easier, because the deaf community is pretty small. So, for example, if you meet one deaf person, they will connect you to other deaf people who will then connect you to other deaf people and so on. And there are really different social formations in deaf worlds versus hearing worlds, and, you know, I use this word “worlds” pretty deliberately, kind of drawing from Heidegger and thinking about how people really inhabit different kinds of worlds. And so here is Ala’ describing this process of making his community.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:08:08] When I first moved here, I only knew one hearing person and no deaf people. Then I met this older deaf woman, we got to chatting, and she told me that she had another deaf friend somewhere else in Japan and even gave me their number. I asked her if it’s okay if I called them or reached out to them, so I did and told them, “I’m from Jordan and I just moved here.” We met up and they brought me to a theater event for deaf people.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:08:33] It was so easy, like 100 deaf people showed up there. I met a bunch of people and we started going out, getting coffee together, and so on—my community grew and grew from there. This is harder for hearing people, I feel: it takes time to meet people and make connections, but for deaf people, meeting each other is easy. I think this is true the world over.

Tim Loh [00:08:55] You know, I think that Ala’s recounting of building his community is really interesting. And so I asked him if this is a kind of “Deaf Gain.” So Deaf Gain is a concept from two professors at Gallaudet University, Joseph Murray and Dirksen Bauman, and essentially in Deaf Gain, they discuss deafness as a kind of benefit rather than a kind of deficit, and it’s really focused on thinking about what deafness can teach us about ways of being in the world.

Tim Loh [00:09:26] So, you know, there are some examples of this. So a simple one is, you know, me and my deaf friends, we often joke—especially those who wear cochlear implants—that when we go to sleep at night, if it’s really noisy, I might have trouble getting to sleep. But then if a deaf person takes off their cochlear implant or, just in general, you know, a deaf person who doesn’t have a very high level of hearing, they’re going to sleep right through that and kind of sleep through the night. So that’s a simple example.

Tim Loh [00:09:52] But of course, Deaf Gain operates at a higher level as well. So, you know, there’s been a lot of research on sign languages, not only in linguistics, but also in education, in neuroscience and psychology, that has taught us a lot about the world, about the nature of language, for example, beyond modality, that is, beyond whether or not a language is written, signed, or spoken. And so I asked Ala’ if, you know, this was a kind of Deaf Gain and he was familiar with the concept and yes, for him it is a kind of gain, but it’s also hard to be a deaf person in a world built for hearing people.

Eshe Lewis [00:10:29] Are there any particular hardships that he talked about? Like what challenges did he face during this move?

Tim Loh [00:10:36] Yeah, in some ways he had to move, right? So, you know, he decided to move because of what he saw as better job opportunities abroad. And, you know, if there were the same kinds of opportunities in Jordan that he has in Japan, the same level of access, for example, he might not have moved. So one of the things he talked about was, you know, going to Japan and being surprised to see that there were disabled people who were working in companies like Microsoft and Google.

Tim Loh [00:11:05] It was really tough for him to make that decision in the first place. He chose to give up his family, this sense of familiarity with where he grew up, his stake in his father’s business, you know, his friends, to come by himself to Japan. And right when he moved, which was in about 2020, COVID struck, and so he spent about nine months looking for work. And so he and his wife have discussed moving to Jordan for a year or two, but ultimately he believes that work opportunities for deaf people are better in Japan than in Jordan,

Tim Loh [00:11:38] and so for that reason, he and his wife have decided to stay for the time being. I think for Ala’ there are also issues that come up because he is Arab, and so he told me that some people treat him with suspicion because of, you know, their own stereotypes of the Middle East. So for example, someone asked him if he has guns in his house and he was very confused by this question, like, why would I have guns in my house, and he has also gotten questions about suicide bombings and he’s like, you know, I don’t know anything about that. And there are also other misunderstandings,

Tim Loh [00:12:14] for example, people telling him that, oh, yeah, is it true that Arab culture is very close minded? And so he has struggled with some of these encounters. But certainly there’s a range of views. It depends on the person that he meets. And there are people, of course, who have changed their minds about Middle Eastern people after meeting him. But for the most part, I think that he feels that discrimination is less in Japan than elsewhere.

Tim Loh [00:12:41] And in some ways, in the deaf community, the fact that he is deaf is more important than any other kind of identity marker. And so, when we were discussing this, he used the signs DEAF SAME. And this is a concept that has also come up in the anthropological literature on deaf identity and deaf communities, so Michele Friedner, for example, calls this a kind of “deaf similitude.”

Tim Loh [00:13:08] And so Ala’ has experienced that as well, where, you know, him being deaf ends up being more important than any other kind of identity that he might adhere to. He also appreciates that he hasn’t faced any kinds of religious discrimination, is what he told me. You know, and, elsewhere, you know, people might get treated badly because they’re Muslim, but he doesn’t really feel that way at all in Japan where religion, it seems, is a more private thing.

Tim Loh [00:13:36] The issue for him is that there just aren’t that many Muslims in Japan. And so, for example, he might be the only one fasting during Ramadan, and, you know, for the Eid celebration, he doesn’t get any days off, and, you know, the closest mosque to his house is an hour away. But in general, he feels really safe here, and that’s what he appreciates.

Eshe Lewis [00:13:57] So you’ve touched on a few here, but I’m wondering if there were any really big cultural differences or changes that he had to, you know, face, perhaps, a different kind of cultural dilemma or surprise? Something he was not expecting or didn’t foresee when he moved.

Tim Loh [00:14:20] Yeah, I mean, certainly there were a lot of cultural differences he had to get used to, and during our interview, you know, one of the words he kept fingerspelling was manner, M-A-N-N-E-R, which I understood here to refer to a kind of etiquette or the importance of knowing how to behave in culturally appropriate ways in particular situations.

Tim Loh [00:14:42] And so, you know, he talked about work etiquette, for example, you know, the importance of punctuality and, kind of, ordered processes at work, which he found pretty different from his experiences in Jordanian spaces. And so, you know, he told me, I made a lot of mistakes and I got corrected for those and then through that had to learn the right etiquette.

Tim Loh [00:15:07] But what was interesting is that when I asked him if he, you know, experienced any surprises when he moved, he couldn’t really think of any on the spot. You know, I think, you know, as mentioned, he’s been there for five years, so he’s like pretty used to everything in his immediate surroundings now, although he did tell me, you know, about the fact that apparently at some Japanese companies, the employees will do calisthenics together in the morning,

Tim Loh [00:15:31] which I think that he probably found pretty interesting at first. But what’s, I think in some ways, what’s even more interesting is that now that he goes back to Jordan, he’s finding surprises there—it’s kind of a reverse culture shock. So here he is kind of describing what kinds of things he now finds surprising in Jordan.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:15:51] I find that now when I go back to Jordan, there are surprises there, for example, how people greet each other. When you meet someone, you pull them into a hug, give them a kiss on both cheeks, and this is not just for your friends or your best friends but even for strangers as well. So that was surprising.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:16:08] And another example is like when it’s late at night—11 pm, let’s say—some friends would come over to my house. And I was surprised—that’s wrong! Japan is different, when it hits 6, 7, 8 pm, everyone leaves and goes home. And so that was something that surprised me. You know, I’ve gotten used to it here in Japan since I’ve been here for five years, so when I go back to Jordan, there are surprises.

Eshe Lewis [00:16:34] So is he happy that he moved? I mean, does he have any regrets about taking that pretty big step?

Tim Loh [00:16:41] Yeah, I asked him this question and he told me it was a really hard one and he found it difficult to explain to me. I think for the most part, yes. I think that he does believe that living in Japan has given him more opportunities as a deaf person, again, because of the work opportunities that are available there, the protection from the law, and things like that. But he has mixed feelings about it for sure.

Ala’ Voice Over [00:17:13] I feel both ways about it, I mean, it’s hard to explain. On the one hand, this, and on the other hand, that. I feel, kind of, like a divided person. I think ideally I would spend six months there and six months here, and go back and forth between the two.

Eshe Lewis [00:17:32] Okay. Well, so what about you, Tim? Do you have any big takeaways from your conversation with Ala? Is there anything that surprised you, that you came away with that’s new or interesting?

Tim Loh [00:17:47] Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, first of all, I really appreciated getting to hear his story. And I’ve, kind of, seen, you know, bits and pieces of his journey, but we’ve been, you know, in and out of touch over the years. And so to be able to have the opportunity to kind of sit down with him and ask him, you know, to tell me, you know, his story from beginning to end. I really appreciated that.

Tim Loh [00:18:13] And I’m very grateful to him for that opportunity and to be so willing to share his story with me and now with the world. And certainly I think that what the story of deaf migration tells us is kind of a trope, I guess, in some ways. But deaf people are similar to hearing people but very different from hearing people at the same time.

Tim Loh [00:18:36] I think we live in a world that’s increasingly globalizing and migration in some ways I think is now more the norm than kind of staying put in one place is. And I hope that there will be listeners out there who listen to this story and see themselves reflected in Ala’s story in one way or another. And I hope that they will find his reasons for moving understandable and in some ways relatable as well.

Tim Loh [00:19:03] You know, I myself also decided to move to see what else there was out there. At the same time, I mean, Ala’s journey is also a unique one. I mean, it’s unique to him, but the kinds of challenges that deaf people may face are not always the same ones that hearing people might. What I think is really valuable about Ala’s story is that he also shows how being deaf helped him in particular ways,

Tim Loh [00:19:32] right? You know, it really facilitated his ability to learn another language; he was able to build a strong community that he feels supported by in Japan, which I think that he is grateful for as well.

Eshe Lewis [00:19:48] Okay. Tim, thank you so much for talking with me.

Eshe Lewis [00:19:54] This episode was hosted by me, Eshe Lewis, featuring reporting by Tim Loh. Tim is a Singaporean anthropologist, completing his dissertation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Doctoral Program in History, Anthropology and Science, Technology, and Society. Thank you to Ala’ Al-Husni for contributing to this episode, and to Omar Sabbagh for providing the voice overs for Ala’s quotes. SAPIENS is produced by House of Pod. Cat Jaffee and Dennis Funk are our producers and program teachers. Dennis is also our audio editor and sound designer. Christine Weeber is our copy editor. Our executive producers are Cat Jaffe and Chip Colwell. This episode is part of the SAPIENS Public Scholars Training Fellowship program, which provides in-depth training for anthropologists in the craft of science communication and public scholarship. SAPIENS is an editorially independent podcast funded this season by the John Templeton Foundation with the support of the University of Chicago Press and Wenner-Gren Foundation. SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association podcast library. Please visit to check out the additional resources in the show notes, and to see all our great stories about everything human. I’m Eshe Lewis. Thank you for listening.


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