I stammer but I have a voice

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Kingston’s heart began to beat fast and he started to feel the sweat build up in his palms and forehead.  Oh, my God, he thought to himself, must I go through this every time I want to eat waakye? 

He had worked out beautiful plans of how he could get to eat waakye without having to go buy it himself but he’s always dismissed them and chosen to go himself even though he knew the waakye seller’s workers and sometimes others in the queue laughed at him when he got stuck on his requests.

If only they knew how much I wish I didn’t have to stammer and could speak as fluently as other people, they wouldn’t poke fun at me and ridicule me because I have a speech disorder.  And why do they giggle and laugh and openly say things to shame me when I stammer through my request for what I want?  Who in their right minds would like to be treated so abominably?  Who would want to talk in this bumpy and disjointed way when they knew very well they were going to be laughed at and even excluded?  Certainly not I, Kweku Kingston, who enjoy being with people and have a lot of respect for myself and who I am.  I have an excellent record in math, physics and chemistry at both senior high and the university.   Although many of my mates knew about this, nobody chose to make that their main point of reference when referring to me.  It was always “that guy, (or Kweku) that quiet guy who stammers”.  If I was lucky, they remembered my name. 

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On many occasions, my decision to be part of any conversation or interaction seem to irritate or create mirth and jokes.   One of my mates always tried to finish off what I was saying and when I raised my hand to indicate I did not need his help, he got upset and would rant .. “wo ntuminkasa, ye kaama wo nsoana wo ye too known”  (meaning, you can’t talk and when we try to help you won’t let us and act like you can) Then there was one teacher who liked to pick on me and tried to force me to talk because he must have enjoyed listening to me stammer.  “Kweku Kingsley, we’re waiting for you.  Stop the err…err..thing and say the word so we can move on”.   Maybe he thought he was being helpful but it really did not achieve that.  I became tense, anxious and sometimes dizzy and even nauseous as I struggled to get out my words whilst the whole class waited; part in silence, some giggling and others placing their heads on their tables pretending to be asleep and therefore creating the impression it’s going to be a long wait.  So, primary school and senior high were both horrible times.  Uni, was better although it meant I had to stay quiet more of the time.  This was counterproductive because the more I stayed quiet, the more anxious I became whenever I had to speak and the more anxious I was, the more likely it was for me to stammer.  This proverbial chicken and egg scenario pushed me to make a conscious decision not to pretend to be quiet but to speak my thoughts boldly and confidently irrespective of whether I stammered or not.  People just have to get used to it, I thought. I believe that I do have very good ideas, better than many who do not stammer, to share.

So, although my sister has offered countless times to get my waakye for me, I’ve refused and chosen to speak for myself.  After all, that was good practice for me too:  Talking helps me to learn to pace myself, breathe appropriately and gather information on my stammering to work on it.  “Bro, I don’t like it when people laugh and tease you like that”, she would say.  Even though people’s teasing and ridiculing cut to the core, I often put up a brave face and would say to my sister, Ewurasi, “don’t worry sis, I’ll be okay”. 

To me those who made fun of me when I stammered revealed much about the kind of humanity they possessed.  I wonder why those who laugh at people who stammer fail to see the effort, struggle, anxiety, and embarrassment that goes with stammering but choose to always make light of it.  Please be informed today that many people who stammer are suffering.  They are suffering from years of people laughing, teasing, ridiculing, dismissing and even excluding them from social and cooperate opportunities.  They are suffering from low self-esteem, lack of confidence, fear of talking and exclusion from developing real relationships, specific careers,  promotions and a host of opportunities others take for granted. 

October 22, every year is designated International Stammering Awareness Day (ISAD).   The Ghana Stammering Association ( a non profit organisation) request you to mark this occasion throughout the week; seek out a person who stammers and talk to them about their stammer.  Ask them what it is like for them to stammer and how they would prefer you to relate to them.  If you are in the same queue as me, Kweku Kingsley or anywhere close to a person with a stammer, we implore you to curb your urge to giggle or poke fun and remember you cause more pain, anxiety and emotional stress when you tease. 

Stammering is no laughing matter and your gentleness, show of patience, understanding and interest in what is being said rather than the stammering behaviour can pull a person with a stammer from the valley to the mountaintop.  Be a change agent and help improve the quality of life for people who stammer.   Happy Stammering Day and Month!!!

Nana Akua Owusu/Speech and Language Therapist, Audiology, Speech and Language Therapy Dept.  School of Biomedical and Allied Health Sciences, University of Ghana.  Call 0246288770 if you wish to join GSA or sponsor their activities.