“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.
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.
“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.