'Deaf People Think It's Complicated to Leave Home. I Encourage Them to Travel'

This week at the Tel Aviv Airport: A young American visiting Israel explains what it's like to travel as a deaf person; two Israeli sisters talk about their therapeutic calling

Salma Watson.
Tomer Appelbaum

Salma Watson, 24, from Killeen, Texas; flying to New York

Hello, can I ask you a few questions?

Sure, I’ll be happy to tell my story. Write here, in my notebook. 

How long were you in Israel?

I was here two and a half weeks. I was in Tel Aviv, which was amazing, and then I went to Haifa and from there to Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea for a week, and then to Jerusalem.

You traveled alone all that time?

There was a guy who joined me for two days at Ein Gedi.

Why Israel?

I wanted to learn about Jewish culture. My family is not Jewish, but I have Jewish friends. I also intend to come back, to meet with Israelis who are deaf.

What’s it like to travel without being able to talk to people?

I’ve been traveling for four months now, and most of the time I was alone, but I have no problem with people. I always carry a notebook and a pen, and that way I can communicate. A lot of people talk to me, they just write in the notebook. Sometimes the conversation is deep and sometimes we just talk about where to go and share tips about the trip.

Where have you been, besides Israel?

Italy, Holland, Germany. Part of the time I traveled with my best friend, Sabrina, until she had a problem.

Is it a kind of after-college trip?

I went to college for only a year and then I stopped.

Why did you stop?

My parents threw me out of the house and I had nowhere to live. Going to school under that pressure is a bit too much, and I felt I had no freedom!

Sounds stressful.

The thing is, my parents adopted me when I was 14. I grew up in Mexico with my aunt and uncle, and as a girl I never actually went to school. My communication with my aunt and uncle was very limited, and it wasn’t until I moved to America that my life improved and I was capable of learning, communicating, working. I know that my parents had very high expectations of me, and one day they will understand how successful I am in fulfilling them.

Why did you leave your aunt and uncle in Mexico?

My aunt abused me in a certain sense, but you have to understand that part of that is related to the Mexican culture. You may not know this, but a certain degree of child abuse is very common there.

Were you born deaf?

Yes. The first time I learned sign language in school I was so excited – the whole time I felt that I was hungry for more. I wanted to know what was happening in the world, and I enjoyed learning new things about culture, religion, people. I wanted to communicate. I still want that. I create stories on Instagram, like short movies, and people who follow me can watch them. 

What’s your Instagram account called?

Sunshinesalma. I have a lot of followers who are deaf. I think that deaf people often think that it’s complicated to leave the house, because they need support, so I encourage them to believe that they can travel and I share tips with them. I myself plan to keep on traveling. In March, I’ll go to India with a deaf guide, and I hope it will be great.

How do you maintain such a positive attitude?

I always had a belief in myself, but in the past I pitied myself and asked why this happened to me. I don’t feel that way any longer. I tell myself that I can do it; I can make every day better.

What brought about the change?

When I moved to America, things started to get better, and I understood that everyone needs to survive, everyone has problems and we all need to be thankful that we’re here. That changed me. There was also an incident that especially affected me.

What was it?

A deaf girl I knew was planning to commit suicide, and I knew about it and stopped her. I asked her why she wanted to die. She said that she feels a lot of self-pity for being deaf – and then it hit me. I understood that I feel like this, but that both she and I don’t have to feel like that. We need to feel that we’re still alive, and to understand that there’s a reason we’re here and that we can look to the future and imagine good things that will happen to us. I feel that I saved her life, but also that she saved mine.

Dana and Netta Mann.
Tomer Appelbaum

Dana Mann, 38, from Kfar Sava, and Netta Mann, 32, from Pardes Hanna; arriving from Vilna, Lithuania

Hello, can I ask what the purpose of your trip was?

Dana: We both work in schools, so we decided that in honor of the holiday vacation we would travel and refresh ourselves abroad.

Netta: We ordered a deal from an app called Smarter. We were supposed to go to Budapest, but they changed the flight and the hotel without letting us know.

Dana: Something weird – a flight to Budapest through Paris, with a 10-hour layover.

Netta: Not a pleasant experience.

Dana: But we decided that, come what may, we weren’t going to stay in Israel.

How was it?

Dana: Terrific. It snowed, there were lights, plenty of trees – Christmas in Europe. Everything we wanted.

It’s pretty clear from the smile that you’re sisters.

Netta: Yes. Dana is the eldest and I’m the third.

How do you get along?

Dana: We’re on good terms. We exchange clothes, listen to the same music. We’re four children in the family and we all know how to enjoy ourselves together, to bang our heads together. (They laugh)

How come you have such a good relationship?

Dana: My mother always taught us to share everything – “It’s not your Barbie, it belongs to all three of you” – and I think that was somehow the basis for everything.

Netta: We were all born within a period of nine years, so the age gap helped. There’s something about that pace.

Dana: I’m just a good girl and look after them.

What do you both do?

Dana: I’ve been working for 12 years in a child-care facility. I always knew I’d work with children.

Why?

I’m dyslexic. As a child I went to a remedial class, I was a bit different, so it was important for me to do something in that area – not to give up on children, and to give them tools that I wasn’t given. In the 1980s, no one knew exactly what to do with children like me, but today there’s more awareness, and every child is diagnosed at some point.

Is that good or bad?

Dana: I think that sometimes it’s easy to impose classifications on children, but sometimes it’s easier when there is a classification. That makes it possible for him to understand who’s against who.

What do you do in a facility like yours?

Dana: I don’t educate. It is fun time – time to reach out to children and give them attention. We work in a vegetable garden, play soccer. I look for their strong points and give them tools to cope, and if there’s a child who’s alone, I’ll pay attention. For example, I like to give the key to the garden to shy girls, to make them responsible for locking it. I think children should be given fun responsibility, not just cleaning up the classroom. 

Netta, what do you do?

Netta: I treat children in special-education institutions using therapy dogs. Our company, which is called Good Dog, works with children with psychological and social problems.

How do you work with the dogs?

Netta: I enter a class with two dogs and do group activities. With a dog you can reach children and get wonderful things out of them. Even with autistic children, you can see responses and changes. Often there are children who are really afraid of dogs, but afterward they participate and pet them. A dog doesn’t judge them, mostly he empowers them. When a child succeeds in making a big dog sit or leads him, he feels a sense of success.

What kind of dogs do you work with?

Netta: Not every dog is suitable. You need a very specific kind, a dog that won’t react too strongly if it’s touched in a way it finds unpleasant. So that if an autistic child does something unpleasant to the dog, it won’t bare its teeth at him.

How is it that you both work in therapeutic professions?

Dana: I think we learned how to give at home. For example, just now, on the flight, there were people with overweight luggage who didn’t have money, so we gave them a little, and also a large bag, so they could take things on the plane. It’s clear to both of us that we help where we can.

Netta: But they took your good pink bag.

Dana: Never mind.