driving blind (again)

when caireenn witter gets up in the morning, it is dark. it is dark when she gets dressed. when she walks to the train station to catch her train to work, it is still black as night because you see, caireenn witter is blind.


as a  premature baby,  too much oxygen administered by the hospital burnt her retinas and left her blind, so all cairee has ever known, is darkness. telling her that the mountains are a beautiful blue today,  or that she has hair blonde as wheat in a summer field ready for harvest, mean nothing. to her, her hair is thick. her mother cuts it. she dresses according to the texture of her clothes. she touches the face of her braille watch to tell the time, enters numbers into her phone by touch. she lived alone for 12 years, till 2 years ago, she met her boyfriend at an outing for the visually impaired. she says they were immediately drawn to each other and  they now live together, though she also says it was hard to get used to sharing her space with anyone other than her guide-dog, tia.

cairie is why i choose to do the pioneer rally which raises money for the pioneer school for the blind in worcester. my grandfather lost his sight when he was in his 60’s and i never knew him as anything but the man with the milky irises, the cane and his faithful dog, bonzo at his side. it was too late for him to learn braille, but for the many south african children who are born blind or who later lose their vision, the only chance at a future, is the pioneer school for the visually impaired in worcester.

the resilience and whacky sense of humor of someone like cairee, is so incredibly humbling. she is an avid binnelanders fan, listening, rather than watching. thinking of her as my audience, makes me so much more aware of my performance, making sure that i reflect every little bit of nuance in my voice and not only in my face.

being in my line of work, i often get requests to attend certain functions or support certain charities. this is one request to which i will always say a resounding yes. imagine not being able to see. imagine not just the loss of color and light, or not seeing the changing emotions that flit across the faces you love, not enjoying sunsets, moonrises, art… but think of the more practical things, the many obstacles a loss of sight entails and how difficult it must be to make ones way in the world. then think of cairie. funny, gregarious, out-spoken, independent. then think about supporting the school that helped provide the skills to keep her that way.

in sight

may i state for the record, with as much eloquence as i can muster, that migraines suck ass?!

it seems that lately i’ve become prone to monthly cycles of what feels like attempts to poke my eye out from the inside. if you hadn’t guessed it, it’s not pleasant. though maybe it has something to do with my very crap, and very likely, worsening vision.

when i was growing up, the library was my baby-sitter. i would spend hours surrounded by row upon row of words; visas and passports to a wonderful escape from what happened when the lights went out at night. at the time, my library cards were probably my most prized possessions. i would finish at least one book while at the library and then devour the one i took home with me even before the library closed for the day. sometimes i would beg my mom to let me go back and get another one and she’d say,

“no, you’ve had your book for the day!”.

she’d send me to make the bed or do some mundane task and half an hour later she’d call to ask if i was done yet. invariably my reply would be,

“uhm, almost…” as i instead turned the page, eager for another paragraph, unable to release myself from the spell of the words creating other worlds right here under my gaze . to me, books are like a journey i embark on and once i’ve taken that first step, i’m unavailable till that journey ends at the very last word on the very last page.

no wonder i required glasses by the time i was 12. i remember a series called “petrocelli” which was showing here in south africa at the time. imagine my shock the first time i saw it after i got my glasses. the actor playing the lead had suddenly acquired an obvious scar under his eye which he’d never had before! made me wonder what else i’d been missing!

now i’m getting to that age where my arms are no longer long enough and my contact lenses no longer deal too well with my astigmatic take on the world. i’ve (gasp) acquired my very first set of (mumble) “readers” – which i now need when i read. yet i’m slowly watching the world fade again. i usually have my eyes checked on my annual trip back to l.a., but i went to india instead this past year, so that didn’t happen.

now nothing is ever entirely clear. at night lights refract and reflect and i feel a little like i’m in one of those video driving games. things shift. edges transmute. and no, it’s been a while since i indulged in any recreational self-medication, so it’s not that. maybe it has something to do with the fact that shortly after my return to south africa 4 years ago, while driving down the road, i had a chance encounter with a stray shot gun pellet. a statistic once more. said pellet, all these years later, is still lodged mere millimetres from my right eye. it’s left me with permanent damage to one quadrant of my retina and subsequently, impaired vision.

and as i’m writing this, i realize that the migraines i have now, started sometime shortly after.

hmn… i need some time to digest that realization.

riding shotgun

riding shotgun

so ok, that’s it folks! here ends today’s tour through my head.

here’s the last.