Language is the basic need of human beings. It is the strongest medium through which people can spontaneously share their thoughts, needs and feelings. There are too many languages existing in the world and it is really difficult to count them all. Sometimes certain situation occurs, where people find it difficult, or rather fail, to communicate as they do not understand each other’s language. To overcome such situations, one has to go back to the ancient practices of communication and use sign language as the medium for communication. I am sharing such a situation I experienced recently.
A few years back, during the summer vacations of our children, to beat the summer heat and to make our children have fun, we went to Phuket in Thailand. Phuket’s crystal clear blue waters, colourful fishes, picturesque standing hills attract travellers from all over the world, and most of the time, the island remains busy with tourists from across the globe.
Phuket keeps its guests busy with lots of activities. Water sports, cultural activities, amusement parks, colourful nights with restaurants, bars and pubs cater to the varied needs of tourists. “Fantasea show” is one of the must-see activities which people of all age groups enjoy. Thailand’s rich culture and tradition is well depicted through various performances in this show. Tourists should not miss this colourful show which also includes a sumptuous dinner with Indian, Thai and other rich cuisines.
A journey to Phi Phi island is a must do activity for nature lovers as it passes through tranquil crystal clear blue waters, crossing beautiful hills which look high up the blue skies. The ferry carrying tourists moves near the tall hills on the shores, and one can enjoy watching the trees which have white stones hanging from them. The experience is awesome as it all happens while you are amidst the sea. We enjoyed snorkelling in the tranquil blue water in Phi Phi and enjoyed seeing the huge live coral reefs with colourful fishes swimming in the blue water. One day, we planned for an under-water walking expedition in Coral Island to see and feel the ocean floor.
It was a sunny day and the day was not so hot when we got down from the AC car at Phuket pier. We went by speed boat to the Coral Island. Three activities were lined up for us; ‘parasailing’, ‘banana boat riding’ and ‘under-water walking’. I wanted to do under-water walking first as it was a totally new activity for me! I had heard about Parasailing, snorkelling, etc but I had never experienced the thrill of underwater walking till then! So, I insisted upon the tour operator Nina to arrange for an under-water walking expedition first. We had to wait for some time as we were in queue; we sat down on the inclined beach chairs placed in the white sandy beach under the palm tree facing the blue sea.
Nina called up suddenly, “Ma’am and children, please hurry up…. your speed boat is ready to have the fun of the under-water world! All the best!!!”
I was thrilled. Ensuring both my children were with me, I rushed to the speed boat leaving behind my husband on the shore as he does not enjoy water sports. After a few minutes, the boat stopped besides a big ship in the middle of the sea. We joined five more Chinese tourists in the big ship. The instructors present in the ship welcomed us and started giving instructions in Chinese. I requested them to speak in English, but they failed to understand my language. They were exchanging a lot of questions and answers among themselves. Cold blood ran all through my body with fear thinking as to how I would allow my children to go in the underwater world without letting them know about the basic instructions! I was cursing myself for insisting upon Nina to go for the underwater trip first! Now I realised why Nina had requested me repeatedly to carry out the other activities before going for the underwater walking expedition! She must have tried to make me understand that English speaking guides would be available in the next trips… But she couldn’t clearly express her thoughts.
Anyway, there was no way out; no other option. It was an either “do” or “do not do” and my children were too enthusiastic to explore the underwater world! “Nothing will happen to us Mom. Please allow us.” I felt so helpless… I looked at my husband who was enjoying himself, sipping coconut water, relaxing in the beach under the palm trees I got angry with him, as if he was to be blamed for the situation… I started praying to God!!
Suddenly, I saw an instructor approaching us and he guided us to one corner of the ship. He must have realised our situation and he pointed to a hanging poster. To my great relief, it was written in English and a few vital points were noted down in the poster with instructions about the Do’s and Dont’s related to underwater activities! After reading the poster, I relaxed a bit and told the children to practise accordingly. It was only a few lines, only a few instructions, but for me it was enough to guide my over enthusiastic children. The instructor then guided us to the other corner of the ship and instructed us to be seated. All this happened without any verbal communication. He even tied a special camera on my daughter’s hand as well. We understood that it was a camera meant for taking underwater photographs.
We were waiting excitedly and finally the time arrived! First was my daughter’s turn. She was provided with a with a big helmet with an oxygen pipe connected from the ferry. Within a few seconds, she descended through the ladder hanging from the ferry and disappeared. Next was my little son. He did the same way with a smiling face waving his hand towards me saying, bye bye. Now it was my turn. Yes, I too had to wear the special helmet and descended slowly down the ladder to find a diver greeting me from the front.
One cannot do any kind of verbal communication under water. The face in front of me questioned me with both his thumbs up and nodding. Yes, he was using sign language, meaning “Are you alright?” Although I do not know a single bit of sign language but I could understand what he had asked. And I answered, “Yes I am okay” by nodding my head in excitement.
He took me forward and I went ahead to a different world. Surrounding me were the blue waters and colourful fishes… it was really awesome, an amazing world. My guide made me walk on the white ocean floor and took me near to my children. They were smiling at me and there were no signs of any worry on their face. I got relieved.
Then the diver took me to a big flowering coral and took a photo of me… Wow! I could see neemo fishes too, surrounding us were so many colourful fishes! I embraced my children with excitement… the divers gave us bread to feed the colourful fishes…and they ate from our hands….it was amazing! In front of us, live corals were dancing to the tune of the waves. All the excitement in those moments carried away all my worries that I had experienced a little while ago.
Thus thirty minutes had passed. It was now time to go up and before that I wanted to try the sign language again to check how divers would behave in case of any emergency. Three divers were roaming around us. I remembered the poster and following one of the instructions therein, I used my right hand and moved it in the direction of left to right and vice-versa. One diver came to me quickly and asked me if I was facing any problem. I told him that I wanted to go up by showing my thumbs up. I saw the strain mark lined up on his forehead. I was happy… Yes, I could make him understand my language! He came and took my hand and we headed towards the ladder from where we had descended.
I walked up through the ladder and rested on the board, waiting for my children to come up. It was a marvellous experience. With no verbal communication, no verbal instructions and only after reading a single signboard, we were able to experience a different world below us, walking on the ocean floor! I was amazed with the sign language we used under water! It was so powerful. It was an experience I would never forget in my life. I also felt proud of my children; it was their courage which made me a courageous Mother!