Deaf-Hearing Marriages in Cambodia

KAMPONG CHAM, Cambodia - It all began with a funny story followed by an innocent question.

A few weeks ago, I visited my friend, Srey. It was the first time I had been inside her home. She was giving me a tour of the house and when we entered the bedroom she shared with her husband, I noticed a thin mattress, the size of a double bed, with mussed sheets on the floor next to a queen-size bed.

With a laugh, Srey signed, “I was sleeping there,” pointing to the mattress. “My phone was ringing but I was sleeping and didn’t hear it. My daughter toddled over, patted me on the shoulder and gave me the phone. She is so smart and I am stupid!”

Putting aside for the moment the problematic issue of hearing equals intelligence and deaf equals stupid, I asked her with a puzzled look, “You sleep there, on the mattress on the floor?” Seeing Srey’s embarrassed expression, I wished I hadn’t asked.

It hung in the air between us. Srey lowered her eyes, signing, “Husband problem. Let’s not talk about it.” Stricken, I nodded.

Srey is deaf and her husband is hearing. He doesn’t know Cambodian Sign Language and has no desire to learn. They have a hearing daughter and the husband criticizes Srey for signing to her. They live in a remote area and it is a long journey to go see her. She is basically alone, with nobody to sign with except for her daughter.

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. The reasons vary: fear of more deaf people in the family, the belief that deaf people can’t take care of children —> Read More