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    Two ears and a mouth

Often, during my time in foreign places, such as Thailand or Kenya, I see the phenomena of what I call “amplification.” Let me explain. For example, when you are in a restaurant trying to ask where the bathroom is but instead, the waiter thinks you are asking for water. As you two are conversing (or at least trying to), the other person starts to speak a bit louder. Then you start to speak louder. Then the waiter starts to speak even louder. Before you know it, you are yelling at each other and everybody in the restaurant is looking at you. It is quite interesting to see that we as individuals seems to think that yelling would facilitate better understanding. That is what I call amplification.

This phenomenon of amplification is so common, whether you are abroad or at home. Scenes of it are in restaurants, government offices, workplaces, hospitals and the list goes on. Working in one of the major hospital in the city, it is common to see this phenomenon. The doctor starts to interview an immigrant patient with a poor grasp of English, trying to get a health history. Before you know it, both the hospital employee and the patient are speaking at the tops of their voices. Both lose in the end. The doctor cannot do his job and the patient cannot voice his or her concern.

Amplification is fuelled by two things: frustration and loses in translation. A person starts to speak louder and louder to get a point across. Imagine a refugee mother, who brings her child who just had a seizure. Imagine if she does not know how to tell the doctor that her child had a history of seizures. Without knowing this, the doctor dismisses it as simply a febrile seizure. Imagine if the mother is not able to say what her child’s allergies are or that she has to go home soon because her other children at home. Inability to express concerns and fears brings about frustration.

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