My worldview on transport was largely shaped by my cultural upbringing.
I grew up in a privileged, middle class area where it was the norm to go to school, get a matric, go to the army or qualify with a diploma or degree, get a low ranking job at the bottom of the career ladder, get a small salary and then buy your first ‘skadonky’ car (for non south Africans it means a beat up piece of metal with 4 generally round wheels with a generally working engine). Private transport was merely part of a step of growing up and learning responsibility. This is why most of the people I know drive private vehicles. And so, being a vision impaired non-driver, it is only with the help of my very kind friends and family, that I seldom have the need to use public transport. I try to arrange lifts that fit in with where my friends are likely to go.
A few weeks ago I had to give a talk in the middle of Cape Town… which is about 50kms out of the way of where any of my friends would be going. So, I decided to make this an adventure on public transport.
The only person I had to put out of his way was my beloved husband who I dragged out of bed to drop me off at the local bus station. He is very brave and trusting to let his adrenalin-junkie, partially sighted wife go gadding about on buses and taxis.
Before I began the trip I had planned the route and tried to memorise the route numbers and directions. I always travel with my white cane as it gives me permission to ask stupid questions and I also reminded myself that if God is always with me then I can never be lost on my own.
I want to give a ‘thumbs up’ to various strangers who helped me on the day:
I spent the first hour with other head-bobbers, who were busy with various activities to fake wakefulness, and others who quite blatantly slept. We all perked up as the bus turned off the N1 into the business district. I stood up to get off at the next stop, but the bus kept going and so I landed up getting off at the following bus stop.
Luckily I got off with other passengers as I was disorientated. I think it was quite scary for them seeing a woman with a white cane asking for directions.
First thumbs up- A chap showed me which way to walk towards the connecting bus station and, thanks to Cape Town’s access friendly pedestrian crossings, with beepers on the traffic lights; I managed to get safely across 3 lanes of traffic. As I approached the entrance to the next bus station, where I usually follow the textured paving to the turnstiles, there was a temporary barrier which had been put up for the famous cycle race.
Once more I was disorientated and once more a passer by came to my rescue. My second thumbs up goes to a young girl who could see me acting confused and showed me the way in. (I think she may have thought, ’what is this silly blind person doing travelling on her own?’ I don’t think she would have expected the answer to be, ‘having a whole lot of fun’.)
As I headed on in, I asked a person (who happened to be a security guard) where my bus left from as I had never been on this particular route before. He took me along and put me on the wrong bus. I had studied the route before I left home and so realised that I was not exactly going in the right direction. I asked the passenger next to me and then laughed when I realised I was on the wrong bus. I knew that I was not lost, just temporarily misplaced!
The kind passenger, who gets my third thumbs up, spoke to the driver and then explained to me that I could catch a connecting bus from the next stop. She made sure that I connected with the marshal at the next stop and I happily, and eventually, got to where I needed to be.
Who says commuting into town is boring?
I am so grgrateful for kind passengers and would publicly like to apologise for any emotional damage I may have caused to fellow commuters who may have perceived me as a desperate, friendless, disabled lady…. Meanwhile I was just a VIP (vision impaired person) on a thrilling, independence escapade. I was bussed, not busted!