Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Experiencing Blindness - Dialogue in the Dark

It's 12:15 AM on Sunday and I am at the Hamburg Central Train Station about to board the 12:38 AM intercity to Bremen, the city I have come on business a couple of weeks ago. Travel in Europe is a charm. Connectivity is fantastic, passengers mill about past midnight and there are so many places to see.
Visiting places during weekends while on business all week has another advantage. You  can plan getaways till the end, buy last minute tickets and still make your trip memorable.

Late Friday, at the end of a very sweltering day, I suddenly decided to go to Hamburg on Saturday. Tripadvisor and YouTube listed 10 places. Most were regulars that you come across any sightseeing calendar in any part of the world (a historic building, a museum, an old business district etc) but one listing was intriguing.

Because it was not a place to sightsee. It was a place meant to experience blindness.
Dialog Im Dunkeln (Dialogue in the Dark) is an exhibition conceived 20 years ago by journalist Andreas Heinecke to help people understand that blindness is neither a disability nor a curse, but just a different set of abilities that fellow citizens have. It is meant to raise awareness of people with sight on what it means to be blind. And to be appreciative and more inclusive of the blind fellow person.

For 90 minutes, our group of seven - white canes in hand and not much physical hand holding - was led through a series of chambers in total darkness by a guide who easily remembered our names and our relative positions. We stepped into a park, walked on gravel, smelt spices, touched vegetables, crossed a road, walked on a bridge, traveled by boat, squatted on the floor to listen to music, and enjoyed our drinks in a bar.

It is in moments like these that you tip your hat to the human spirit. We were strangers yet were instinctively helping each other. We tolerated when someone stepped on our shoes. Not one person spoke out loud. And we were not just hearing, but truly listening.

The guide was outstanding. A half Sri Lankan and half German, she had been born blind. Her English was flawless and she had a sweet firm voice. She banged on walls and advised us to follow the sound. Or made one of us lead - and help - the rest. Sometimes she was ahead and sometimes behind. She took our money in the bar, knew the amount, returned the change, opened the cooler (it had no lights but I got the Sprite I ordered) and handed over refreshments. She was focused on helping us realise that lack of vision is not an end but an opportunity to employ our other senses to still experience joy.
Words like 'visually challenged' or 'visually impacted' were never used during this tour. Blindness is a state, she said, that's just different.

We never saw her. But we will never forget her.

If there is ever a chance that the blind exhibition comes to your town, please don't miss it. Hamburg is one permanent location. So is Hyderabad in India. Other cities host them too.

Darkness can shed so much light.


Rohit Singh said...

Wowww. I'll make that part of my itinerary too.

Nice of you to share.

Arun Kumar said...

Thnx Rohit. It's an amazing experience....