By Jennifer Huang
Wednesday morning I woke up and my voice was gone.
I had spent the evening before at the premiere of a film I worked on (about Chef Jacques Pepin, check it out on PBS on May 26) and in the reception and after party, giddy with the excitement of seeing the film on the huge screen of the Castro -- but more, seeing it with the man himself in the house, I shouted over the party din until my voice shrank to a thin croak. I should have known better, as I was nursing a sore throat and cough, but if you know me, you know I find it hard to resist gabbing.
But now the voice was gone completely. And instantly my mind went there, tritely, perhaps, to thoughts of people like the girls in my film who at one point had no voice -- whose own thoughts and feelings might be shouted out to the world, but utterly disregarded.
After about 30 minutes I was cranky and irritable, finding fault with Doug for not paying sufficient attention to me because I couldn't communicate my typical logorrhea. I started pounding on the counter, sending kitchen implements flying and rather disturbing him, I'm afraid. After an hour I was depressed and non-communicative, giving up on most of what I wanted to say. If I was handling this so poorly in the first hour, what would it be like to be born into a world that no one listened to you? How hard would it be to come back from that?
Of course the analogy falls apart, or maybe it doesn't, because I am fortunate enough to have a husband that adapts. He cracked a joke that made me laugh and it reminded me that I am still myself, even if reduced to a whisper. He learned to look at me carefully when I was talking and lean in so I could whisper in his ear. And that gives me hope that for the girls in my film, for voiceless people throughout the world, that when they find someone who can listen, can meet them on their terms, it can let them fully realize themselves and recognize that their expression is in fact, important.
And as I am hoping to do with this film, Doug transmitted my thoughts and messages to the world. Tonight we had an extended family dinner, and I needed him to explain to people why I wasn't talking to them, to relay the messages I whispered into his ear, and to be my spokesperson. Of course I want to let the girls speak for themselves in my film, but I hope to be the conduit that makes it possible for them to be heard on a wider stage.
I am now on my flight back to the Philippines, where I will be shooting for 6 weeks. I had hoped to have woken up this morning, 3 days later, miraculously restored, but that was not to be. Would it have been wise to use my travel insurance to delay the flight? Yes probably. But then I might not have gotten on the Gudetama plane.
To be honest, i am pretty freaked out; this is something of a worst case scenario: I'm exhausted from coughing all night, feeling quite sick, unable to communicate, traveling alone with 150 pounds of gear. But really even writing that down makes me feel like a whiny punk. Most people have gone through far worse -- all of the girls in my film have, most of the country if the Philippines probably has. So I have to prove my claim -- that I'm a tough girl.
Who knows, maybe I will wake up tomorrow and I will get my miracle. I have emergency chocolate in my bag, and every medicine Doug could imagine I might need. So even here, alone and voiceless in the clouds, I feel well cared for, and luckier, for certain, than most.
Update: since arriving in Cebu, my voice is starting to come back --but I have come down with pinkeye. Since I was a child I've been very good a feeling sorry for myself, but as frustrated I am that I can't take a pill to make it go away instantly, I realize that I am really lucky to have something that will go away on it's own. Most illnesses and problems are not self-solving. So I am continuing what seems to be a lifelong lesson of learning to count my blessings.
As a small reward for those of you who have made it to the end of this blog post, I am sharing with you one of the most humiliating photos of myself from recent years. If you click on the "before" pic above you can see is what I looked like on my transpacific flight --eye shade, neck pillow, and the real fashion statement, the face mask I got last year at a Taipei night market. It's a hot look that I'm sure the Kardashians will be picking up soon.