Tuesday, 19 January 2016

My Life with Chibwibwi

I reckon it is hard for people who do not stutter to understand why people like me who do actually stutter. Trust me if we could speak without pauses every now and then we would definitely do it. Unfortunately, some of us have that speech disorder called a stutter or locally known as chibwibwi, it was a word used to describe me when I was growing up.

Many people will not believe that I actually do have chibwibwi; the fact is that I do. I have just learnt to disguise it pretty well. It is not easy growing up with a stutter, usually you are the butt of the joke and often you are afraid to speak in crowds, or air your views. There is also a stereotype that people with chibwibwi are short-tempered. Well I am far from short-tempered as they come so that stereotype is not entirely true. I also do not know whether the use of the word chibwibwi is derogatory, I just came to accept it as one of the tags that were labelled on me. Anyway that is a debate for another day.

The thing with chibwibwi, it is not like I choose to have it or choose to do it on purpose to annoy people. It just happens; it's rather hard to explain. One minute I can be speaking fluent and flawless like the strokes of the violin and then the words come out in pauses like a car that has run out of gas. This is perhaps what non-stutters must find very peculiar.  The strange thing is that we will even stutter on the simplest of words. Whereas a non-stutterer will just pronounce the word, "Ball", one who does will say, "B-B-B-B-Ball. It is like someone is removing a bath tub stopper from your mouth very slowly. At times you can see the pain, impatience and amusement of the person you are talking to as you struggle to say the word. For some individuals with chibwibwi this can be a huge dent to their self confidence.

I have good moments when the chibwibwi will not be heard then there are moments when it will surface. In high school, I did the most absurd thing for someone with chibwibwi joining the Debate Club. I thought that somehow I could be able to defeat it. I think it helped but the one thing that I then became known as was the boy who speaks very fast. Now the speaking fast was not intentional at all, it was to avoid the chibwibwi at the time that is the only way I knew how to avoid it. In my head I know that I am going to stutter a word even before I attempt to say it. For example, if I want to say, "Exaggerate", I already know in my head even before those words roll off my tongue whether they will be smooth or chibwibwi. I do not know if this is the same for other individuals with chibwibwi but that is the way it is for me. So I have two choices in such a situation, go ahead and stutter the word 'Exaggerate' or replace it with another word like 'Overstate' which hopefully will roll off easier. When I discovered this, I had to learn a lot of synonyms maybe that is why I became a writer. It is just a challenge when it is a person's name because then I cannot easily replace it.

As a child I did not receive any treatment. I do not even think my parents thought it was a problem at all. I think in Zambia, it is hardly considered as something that needs to be treated. No one appears to pay much attention to it. Whereas, I have been able to manage my chibwibwi perhaps because it is not very severe others have not been so lucky. It does result in people withdrawing and abstaining from most activities that require them to speak out. It was not until I watched the Oscar winning 2010 movie The King's Speech that I learnt of what a speech therapist actually does. In the movie a speech therapist helps King George IV of the United Kingdom with his stutter as he is supposed to make a public address. Unfortunately, in Zambia the option of a speech therapist is not available to many stutterers. However, there are other ways that can be used to assist the person who stutters.

Patience- Be patient with us do not feel the need to complete our sentences on our behalf. Allow us to finish the sentence, it may be insignificant to you but there is a level of triumph when we finally say the word.

Poetry- Experts say that reading poetry or reciting it out loud is one way that can reduce the stutter. Hollywood actor James Earl Jones (voice of Mufasa in Lion King) has attributed this method to getting rid of his stutter. I think it worked for me as I would recite at BitterSweet Poetry.

Synonyms- In most cases, I know that I will stutter a word even before I begin to say it. Knowing a number of synonyms to a word might be an alternative. Replacing the word with a synonym might come out more fluently.

Breathe- The chibwibwi usually becomes more aggressive when one is nervous and their mouth is dry. Learning how to be calm as they speak and having breath control can reduce the stutter considerably.

Understand- DO NOT speak back to us in chibwibwi. We do not it deliberately. It is a speech impediment. Neither should you show us any pity because of it.

I hope that I have shed some light on why I stutter sometimes. I do not know whether someone else who stutters follows the same pattern as I do. For a child with chibwibwi it can be very difficult especially if they do not have the right support system around them. Some children will probably get rid of it as they grow whereas for some it will not disappear. It will just have to be managed. For someone with chibwibwi it is not deliberate we speak that way, it just happens the very least we expect is for others to understand that.

Do you have or know someone with chibwibwi? What is your experience?


  1. Well written...with or without it I love you to the moon and back.

  2. Hi!
    Your story is really inspiring. You have learnt a great deal and cope really well. My friends and I are actually the very first banch trained in speech disorders and are trying to create some awareness here in Zambia.
    One of our colleagues actually stutters!
    If there is anyway we can help you and others living with stuttering, let us know through our page(Speech, Language and Communication Specialists Zambia.
    Very best!

  3. Love your blog bro. Keep it up. And please dig at the government stupidity more. : )