Category Archives: travel story

Following clothes

This morning I walked from a bright, sunny quadrangle into a shadowy corridor that leads down a ramp, through a doorway, into a foyer. It takes a long time for my eyes to adjust to the change in light, but today was my lucky day. Two precious people were walking ahead of me and one was wearing a black and white striped skirt, a perfectly elegant landmark unknowingly escorting me through the narrow doorway.  

I did say thank you and, since I know her quite well, joked about the usefulness of  the vertical pedestrian crossing! We laughed together about the odd behavior required by people with confusing vision. It only then dawned on me that I have something to write about: the usefulness of following bright clothing, bags, prams, rolling suitcases and the like. 

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Refreshing journey – cane, lines and ‘le-man aid’.

Yes, a play on words of my favourite cocktail from my miscreant youth. Now it is my favourite way to get around – use my white cane, line up with fellow commuters and depend on le – man aid, help from strangers, so I can go wherever I feel like it …ON MY OWN.

As many of you LOVIS (low vision sufferers) will know, it is wonderful to have family and friend support for … just about everything, but I love to give my concerned others a break at times and get to live a little on the edge. Being a bit of an adrenalin junkie, I get buoyed by the adventure of putting myself at the mercy of strangers and depending on the kindness which I believe is in the heart of everyone. Yes, I may bump into a serial criminal – who I believe is just a very hurt human, who never got a safe enough environment to help them through their pain – and, yes, I admit, I do pray and ask the Lord of Life to protect and guide me. My family know, and joke about, my designated ‘guardian traffic angel’ to protect me from being run over and they occasionally ask me if I can put in a quick request for these services to be rendered to them to get a break in the traffic!

Background

I come from a privileged upbringing where owning a private vehicle is a necessity and public transport from the northern suburbs of Cape Town can be seen as a daunting unfamiliar mission.

The story – One day to UCT for one meeting.

My husband dropped me off at the Golden Arrow bus stop early in the morning. I met my first travel buddy in the line. She had the incorrect small change and knew that the driver could not break a R200 so early in the morning, so I got to add in the couple of rands to get her ticket. It started a great conversation about ‘paying it forward’ (a must-see movie classic). She also told me she was getting off at the place I wanted to go. She told me the driver stops between official stops to let her out. What are the chances that that was exactly near the staircase I wanted to use to head to the MyCiti bus-station.

I always use my white cane when I am on my own. Physically I could survive without it, but the stress of trying to figure out where to go or who I may literally bump into, and the embarrassment of looking like an idiot – like when I walked boldly towards a door that had a big ‘use next entrance’ sign on it and I wondered why the handle didn’t work – as I shoved an pulled at it. My cane gives me permission to do weird stuff, it drastically reduces my stress, gives me permission to ask for help, without giving long explanations, and is a kindness I afford myself.

I got off at the un-stop and joined the throng of pedestrians streaming headlong into the bowels of the bus station like ants into an underground ant-nest. I knew where there were machines for checking how much money was on my card, but I knew I didn’t know how to work them. I just joined the line and then, close to the front of the queue, I asked the person behind me (travel buddy 2) if they could help. He was a friendly Nigerian student on his way to college. He showed me how the card readers worked and told me it didn’t matter which way up the card was … another relief as I needed to use the card at every entrance and exit point.

In the bus station, the marshal told me where to go. The paving guides in the MyCiti Terminus are up to international standards and so I was easily able to get to the right platform using my stick in the rutted grooves and my feet on the stipples. I do wish, however, that there were more color contrasts, or even color coding, to clarify the functional areas. When I began to look a bit lost, as I could not see the platform number, a little girl and her brother (travel buddies 3 and 4) asked if they could help. They confirmed that I was on the right platform, but many busses used it. They would not leave me by myself, so I let them take me past the line of people to the official usher at the gate. I waited with her and she made sure I got onto the right bus.

As we bumped along somewhere near District Six I asked the lady next to me (travel buddy 5) where exactly we were. She announced, “Coronationville” and we got chatting. She was a domestic worker who was so grateful for her work and the family who she obviously loved like her own. She proudly told me all about ‘her’ children and how wonderfully they were doing. She had so much gratitude and satisfaction in her heart that she literally bubbled hope.

I hopped off the bus at the Cape Town society for the blind as it was the closest bus stop to the university (for non-students). After a cup of coffee and checking emails, I took an Uber to the campus. The driver was very protective and was reluctant to let me go (travel buddy 6) on my own, until I showed him the Lazarillo App that told me exactly where I was and what the names of the buildings were.

After a couple more meetings and greetings with helpful people, biddies 7 and 8, I got to my appointment. Interestingly, on that floor of the building the corridors were an off-white color and all the doors were painted green … very low vision friendly, yay! So when someone told me that the loo was the first door on the right, I felt comfortable that I could find it on my own. Actually, it was not the toilet. The loo was the only door not painted a color … camouflaged in-house out house!

After our TEDI meeting (google it) I hitched a lift with a colleague (not a stranger, so I can’t add a buddy number) to the busy Main Road and hopped out onto the pavement. After gathering my wits I held my index finger down in the signal for a minibus taxi. Well, the taxi stopped in the middle lane of traffic, the jockey got out, stopped the vehicles in the closest lane and came and fetched me by the hand to climb into the already full minibus. I told him where I wanted to get out so, about 10 minutes later, when we were driving in the right-hand lane, he spoke to the driver who then veered across 2 lanes of traffic and stopped to let me out. Once again, I was not left alone. The jockey (who deserves to be travel buddy 9) simultaneously stopped the oncoming traffic at a green light, grabbed a nearby unsuspecting pedestrian by the arm and told the guy to, “take this lady across the road”. He acted with so much cheek, daring and caring, that we were all laughing! The accosted Indian man who helped me across the road (travel buddy 10) happened to be going in the same direction to Cape Town Society for the Blind. So, whilst we negotiated the patch-work of pavements, potholes and driveways all the way to CTSB, we chatted about cane woven lampshades and about having things in our homes that have meaning. It was a delightful few minutes that left me feeling refreshed.

I had an hour to waste as the first Golden Arrow bus out of CT to Durbanville leaves the city at 3. So, I settled down for a big lunch at Cafe 45. (For local readers, you can get a fantastic, reasonably priced lunch of the day at CTSB in Salt River Road, Woodstock)

Just after 2pm I waited at the MyCiti bus stop to head back into the CBD.I was a bit anxious because I did not know when the next bus was supposed to arrive. There was a toll-free transport number on the bus shelter, which I was able to see in a zoomed-in photograph on my cellphone, but that day all I got was, “sorry, the number you have dialed is not available right now”. I can’t hail a bus ‘cos I can’t distinguish between buses, trucks and large noisy vehicles…so I made a quick request for my traffic angel. A lady arrived shortly thereafter (travel buddy 11). We got chatting about how she had taken off early from work and was heading into town. She hailed the bus when it came, and I got safely onto it.

Back at the terminus, I walked over the bridge to catch the Golden Arrow bus home. Once again, a friendly passenger (travel buddy 12) happened to be taking the same bus back to the northern suburbs so I did not need to hold out my large print A5 sign with the word BUS and the destination, DURBANVILLE, on it, (which, although necessary at times, does make me feel a bit odd). After solving our country’s leadership crisis with her, we got onto the bus. It was so full, I couldn’t find a seat. I said aloud, “I don’t want to sit on anyone’, and then travel buddy, lucky number 13, said, “There is space to sit here” as she reached for my hand and led me to sit next to her. I got into a conversation with this young lady as she asked about my sight. We landed up talking about her struggles at work, and this time, I got to be someone’s le-man aid.

What a lovely day! I feel proud to be a South African. There were so many good-hearted people from all walks of life helping me out in their ‘on the way moments’ of their lives. I am just one person, on one journey, on one day and yet I feel like I got to see the kindness inside of many hearts.

It is a privilege to be blind enough to see this.

Cane and able

Cane and able … not the story of the original rival siblings, but one also involving pride and internal conflict.

I recently had an unexpected trip to Johannesburg. There was little time to prepare during a busy day and , it was only when my husband and I were standing still on the ‘skellylators’ (our family word for escalators) that I began to think about this trip – body still and mind begins to move.

I realised that I was traveling alone. No securing husband, just me and my faithful, rather battered white cane.

Usually, when I go on a solo adventure, I mentally visualise the places I am going to and the colors of shops, the landmarks and the likely course of action. This time I was just there unexpectedly and had to ‘go with the flow’. When I feel vulnerable I make an effort to embrace my weakness and know that I am never alone. God is with me always. That morning I read from an ancient letter, “Let your gentleness be evident to all, for the Lord is near you …and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind” . Boy I needed that peace, so decided to just be gentle and ask whoever I met whenever I needed it.

I checked in online, but went to the counter anyway to find out which gate I needed to find for boarding. the lady asked if I needed assistance and I automatically said, “no”. The thought of sitting in a wheelchair when my legs are perfectly healthy seemed like a false pretense. (Will think more about this for the future). I also enjoy the adrenalin rush of finding my own way.

I would never travel without my mobility cane. Whilst it is a symbol of blindness and someone needing help (why din’t I get the assistance offered?) , it frees me to do stupid things and to ask stupid questions like, “ is this gate 7?” Whilst standing under a bright blue number I also get into unexpected conversations with interesting people I would otherwise never meet.

I became very aware of the surroundings for future reference. For example, in the SA airports the bathroom signs are round and bright yellow. I still can’t see which one is for who (although our law allows you to choose your gender anyway) and could not distinguish the disability one. My cane gave me permission to ask for directions to the disabled loo. Some folk falter before answering, thinking that this is only for wheelchairs (I had this conversation in the queue with the girl who had directed me earlier) , but can you imagine being in a large noisy bathroom with sounds of hand dryers, flushing loos and intercom announcements and trying to hear which door has opened and which cubicle is free. The disabled loo – which is probably very able (unless it is blocked) – is either free or not . A much simpler option for the vision impaired.

When joining a queue for boarding I looked for the brightest bag or shirt and tucked myself in behind that person. As long as they kept moving in the direction I needed to go, I was fine. At one stage the blue bag that I was following had to veer left to board through the front door of the plane and I had to veer right to board from the rear door. I walked slowly until I spotted another colourful blob to follow. (I think he was quite amused when I asked him if I could follow his bright shirt.)

There might come a day when it becomes too stressful to follow moving blobs and blurs of landmarks, but until then… my cane makes me able.