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American Annals of the Deaf

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My Life with Kangaroos: A Deaf Woman’s Remarkable Story
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MG: At another place, you once asserted – and I quote you more or less after the sense of what you said – that it was very important for you as a child that the kangaroo, unlike most other mammals, stood on two legs, not four.

Could it be, too, that this animal was and still is a kind of ‘substitute for human beings’?

DH: Yes; I can say that, from the very first moment I saw a kangaroo as a child, the kangaroo was a ‘substitute for the human being’. But that doesn’t mean that it is a genuine substitute for real people. Let me put it this way: The kangaroo is the ‘most human’ among all other animals. That’s what it was for me from the very beginning. Even at the time I discovered their hopping, five-limb locomotion, in other words, the use of their forepaws, back legs and tail to get along, my picture of them has not changed. I would like to add to this admittedly rather odd statement.

Why, for example, did I never find the chimpanzee as ‘human’ like the kangaroo? After all, they sometimes walk, like us, on two legs, and every child looking on laughs to see them, because they remind us of the habits of human beings. But that was different with me. Certainly, these animals had their comical side, but they also had something frightening about them, especially when they bared their teeth. Apart from this, I didn’t like the shape of their heads much. They seemed too ungainly to me. Furthermore, their hasty, wild movements were not particularly pleasant to watch. I didn’t like their sturdy, wrinkled faces either. The heads of kangaroos, on the other hand, pleased me greatly. They seemed to have something ‘noble’ about them, and I was much taken with their clever, dark brown eyes.

When I was a teenager and regularly visited kangaroos at the zoo to make friends with them, eye contact was an important element. It was this that was actually so ‘human’ about these creatures. And then their equable attitude in these contacts that left me with the impression that I had had a conversation with a person on a serious, intensive level.

MG: When one considers that an ape’s face is certainly more ‘human’ and in the last analysis has the effect of winning more confidence from us, is there something more in the physiognomy of a kangaroo than this ease of manner you refer to or the eye contact that is so attractive, do you think?

DH: Oh yes, it’s perfectly possible to have eye contact with a primate, but this is not free from problems and even be dangerous for the human being who doesn’t adhere to certain rules of conduct. Facial expressions in the primate, for example, are often very different from those of human beings. For this reason, a good deal of practice is necessary if there is going to be any meaningful communication between the two.

Dear Michael, may I remind you of what was said in the section referring to ‘Moving like a kangaroo’? I said something about apes at that point, and so I don’t need to repeat matters, but will say that my experience with apes, by the way, helped me in extending and improving my association with kangaroos. Of course, the mime of a kangaroo compared with a primate is much less expressive, and so it’s all the more important to understand its body language. It is interesting in this connection to note that in the case of Dora, a light, almost human stretching motion of the head and neck was to be observed, when she wanted to ‘speak’ to me.

MG: If I were to put my question differently, I would perhaps say that, apart from these exterior features you’ve mentioned, is there something very specifically ‘human’ about a kangaroo? After all, in some of your dreams, kangaroo transformations take place so as to produce a human appearance and a situation in which you can communicate.

DH: I very often ask myself the same question. When I look at Dora’s photo on the wall in my kitchen, I ask myself the question: Was she a real kangaroo or rather a ‘human being’? I know this sounds a bit queer, but I’m being sincere. I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that I have often had the strange feeling that her make-up was not that of a kangaroo. This idea was odd to me, too, but there we are. A kangaroo with a human soul – perhaps that’s how we can put the matter. The same could be said of Jacqueline and Berta, both of whom seemed to have had habits that were very human.

MG: Could one perhaps say that you view the kangaroo as a kind of ideal human being? You see him as a reserved, relaxed ‘person’ that you have always wished, and not so wild and unpredictable, for example, as, say, a chimpanzee?

DH: Yes; there you’ve hit the nail on the head. Quite honestly, I like it when my counterpart behaves in a composed, reserved way, and listens attentively, even if this sometimes demands a little patience. Not everyone possesses this quality. There’s many a person who has a lively temperament, for example, and likes to gesticulate at every turn. This I find rather tiring, and apparently I react to it a little in the way the primates do by waving their arms and jumping about wildly. There are times when, in the presence of a temperamental person, that I even develop anger, and desperately imagine the cool attitude of a kangaroo, and hope at the same time that my counterpart will change his behaviour!

MG: Do you think that you owe it to coincidence that you have encountered kangaroos?

DH: No, I don’t think so. That was certainly no coincidence, just as it was no coincidence that Eukala, my Aboriginal friend, touched upon this theme when we met. She said that the kangaroos had chosen me! This came as a great surprise, and of course, it’s not an easy thing to understand. It was not that I sought the kangaroos, but that they sought me. And what did she mean anyway by ‘seek’ or ‘choose’? The whole thing sounds very mysterious. However, in the course of my life, I’ve come across things that one would similarly call ‘mysterious’. The more I gave thought to my relationship with kangaroos, the stranger the connection.

What could ‘choose’ mean here? Honestly, I just don’t know. I don’t want to give my imagination full rein. On the other hand, my ‘friendship’ with Dora was characterised by a particular attention and dependence, which is extremely rare in kangaroos.

Speaking of this reminds me of something that once happened. When I was still a child, an uncle often came to see us. This uncle had a poodle. I remember clearly one morning sitting on the edge of my bed trying to put on a pair of slippers. Then this poodle came and snatched one of them away. He shook it energetically, threw it around and bit into the slipper playfully. I didn’t make a fuss, but watched quietly. Funnily enough, at that moment it first occurred to me to ask why a poodle, a horse or cats stand on four legs, and we human beings only on two. This question pursued me from that moment on. I can count the fact that the poodle doesn’t ‘touch’ things with his forepaws as we humans do with our hands to my most important ‘discoveries’. I thought then that this was because he needed his four legs to stand on the ground. He uses these to run and jump, but uses his jaws to snap and grasp and carry. It was then that the question shot through my head: Are there also animals which have a coat that stand upright, walk on two legs and let their forepaws hang like arms? It was not long after this that I made a visit to Basel Zoo and there they were – kangaroos!

If we consider these two things, my thoughts and wishes and then my visit to the zoo shortly afterwards and the first encounter with kangaroos, then I believe we can say that there was a mysterious link somewhere, don’t you think?

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