Partially sighted traveller – “assistance required”

“Before I go blind” bucket-list adventures.

A rural hiking adventure in Venda – Day 1

Raising awareness for Retina South Africa, and empowering the partially sighted (visually impaired).

Sunday morning. Getting to Johannesburg.

I’m almost hallucinating with tiredness as I check in at Cape Town International airport at 5am. The plane is taking off at 6:15a.m to Johannesburg and I’ve had about 3 hours of sleep. We need to leave Johannesburg airport by mid-morning to arrive at our destination, Makumbani village in Venda, before supper.

My exhaustion can’t dampen the thrill I feel for the much anticipated eco-tour with Ecopsychology Africa, that I’m about to embark on.

“I’m going to miss you” says Emmy my youngest child, who is still in her onesie.

“We’ll be fine’’ says Sam, my girlfriend, who has the unenviable job of heading up the household for the week. I can’t pretend that I’m not a little bit happy to be leaving the care of the dogs, birds and four kids to her, while I go off on my Venda adventure.

Competing with my excitement of my dream/trip of a life time is the fear of travelling with only 7% of my sight, and getting to Johannesburg on my own. But I have my cane, and I’ve booked myself for assisted travelling.

In fact, my assistant, a smartly dressed friendly young man, is waiting to take me through.

I kiss Sam and Emmy goodbye, and pat my “I am partially sighted badge” to make sure it is still pinned to my t-shirt, and follow my assistant.  I have sudden flashback to saying goodbye to my mom as a six-year-old, before walking away with an air hostess, an “unaccompanied minor” badge pinned to my jumper.

Michele Macfarlane - Retina SA Ambassador

At six, I was filled with excitement at travelling independently from my parents. It was the start of confident and independent travel that lasted until the radical decline of my eyesight.  It’s the first time I’ve requested “assistance required”. I feel a tiny bit of shame, which I force myself to abandon.

Creating awareness and accepting compassion.

Part of this trip is to motivate the partially sighted (visually disabled) to empower themselves, by utilising whatever is available to them in order to be able to travel. It’s the shame and embarrassment of using a cane or relying on others that keep so many individuals from going out in public. So, I hold myself up straight and answer my assistant’s questions.

”No, I’m not completely blind.”

”Yes, I still need a cane.”

“I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has left me with tunnel vision”

He suddenly stops walking.

‘’We have a bit of time,’’ he says, ‘’could we please pray together?”

The non-religious side in me is quite taken aback, but he is so sincere and well-meaning that I agree. We sit on some chairs and close our eyes. If anyone is staring at us, then I wouldn’t notice, even if my eyes were open, so it doesn’t bother me. What I don’t see, doesn’t exist.

Michele Macfarlane with airline assistant

“Dear Lord,’’ He begins. And goes on to plead for the full return of my sight. “Where man fails, God will not, because He is all powerful. Please return this woman’s eyesight today!”

I’m pretty sure that even if God was all powerful, that due to my lack of faith he’s not going to suddenly return my sight.

My well meaning assistant wraps up his prayer and we open our eyes. I’m still mostly partially sighted. I don’t want him to be disappointed, so as we make our way to the aeroplane I mumble something about God moving in mysterious ways, and suggest that maybe He has different plans for me.  Just before I board the plane, I spontaneously hug my helper and thank him for taking such good care of me.

The sun is rising as the plane begins it’s descent to the Johannesburg runway. As always, the thrill that the beauty conjures up in me, is ruined by the panic that one day such sights might be hidden from me forever.

The drive to Venda

Once our group is settled into the taxi, Jeffrey introduces us to each other. I soon realise that I will be sharing the journey with a fascinating group of individuals. Included in our group is a Jungian psychiatrist, and her film maker son, a doctor, a psychologist/sangoma, a letting agent, an artist, and a political advisor. All have the most fascinating stories and intelligent conversations. My brain comes alive, excited at the prospect of all the anticipated stimulation.


  1. Wilhelmina-Reply
    September 15, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    I enjoyed reading this, Michele. Well done. x

    • Michele Macfarlane-Reply
      October 9, 2017 at 12:25 pm


  2. September 15, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Hi Michele

    Although I was trying to finish a lot of work on this Friday afternoon my eye caught the link to your article, on FB and I suppose the fact that we are family and the picture your displayed was taken at an airport – ensured that I would spend a bit of time with you.

    I am a people freak – make up my own stories about their lives, their problems, their loudness, their looks and in a way the arrogance I impose on their poor souls.

    Nothing pleases me more than being able to sit at an airport or shopping mall and simply watch the tide go by.

    After I read your piece about your departure, the half hidden excitement, the airport assistant, the taxi, the people you were going to spend time with in Venda – I realised that you see better than most people.

    The older I get the more life means to me and the better I know people and how average they actually “live”.

    Not average money-wise, but average in missing half of what they see.

    Last night I lay awake and goodness knows why, but I challenged myself to describe the parrot we have had for 20 years! I tell you the truth is – I could not describe him half right.
    Now after taking a good look I know – he is green and has navy blue, yellow and red feathers.

    I had to laugh when I read about the eager “assistant” turning into Father Theresa – not because of him, but I had a worse experience a number of years back when I lost the little faith I had – after an almost fatal accident. The type of accident that normally turns Atheists into Believers!

    Being me, I went the other way – filled with doubt and even aggression – how dare God almost kill Superman 2?

    Anyway – during this period (yes it did end) an acquaintance of mine, one morning at a motorsport event suddenly held his hand on my head and prayed like my grandpa used to.

    Then years after this incident he asked me how I was and goodness knows – typical I said – “since you prayed for me, nothing – but nothing, went well!”

    If you have a “drive in a rally car” as a Bucket List item – let me know – if all works out well I will have re-established Rallystar Motorsport Academy by January 2018 – and will be able to take you for a spin!

    No worries about the 7% – most people see nothing anyway!

    My apologies for bursting in from the side of the scrum, but I had to chat to you – as I could feel what you saw!

    Keep well, until next time.

    • Michele Macfarlane-Reply
      October 9, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Leon. How exciting to be introduced to family. Thank-you for your lovely comments. My mom tells me that you write poetry, which, after reading your comments, doesn’t surprise me. do you share any of your poems on a platform. I would love to “drive in a rally car” in 2018, and to share it on my blog. What a stunning opportunity. Keep me posted, and maybe we can meet soon.

  3. September 15, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Can’t wait to hear more- and I was there!!!

    • Michele Macfarlane-Reply
      October 9, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Ren. Coming up later today. will keep you posted.

  4. Ansie-Reply
    September 15, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Admirable!!! Very interesting!
    Would love to follow your travels.

    • Michele Macfarlane-Reply
      October 9, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      Thank you Ansie. Sorry for the late reply. Am posting today, now that I have finally sorted through my Venda pictures.

  5. Pam Kent-Reply
    September 15, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    Good on you! Waiting for next chapter…

    • Michele Macfarlane-Reply
      October 9, 2017 at 12:06 pm

      Thanks Pam! Have finally gone through a load of my pictures and will post today.

  6. Lisa Cohen -Veit-Reply
    September 16, 2017 at 6:44 am

    Laughed out loud at the bit about the over zealous Christian. There’s something quite lovely about that kind of innocent conviction.

    • Michele Macfarlane-Reply
      October 9, 2017 at 12:02 pm

      It really is done with the best of intentions Lisa. which is when I always accept the prayer.

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