July 28, 2012

Experience how the Blind see the World.

Blind Café: the most intimate, enlightening dinner I’ve ever had.

Recently, I was invited to a Blind Café.

A longtime acquaintance of mine, Rosh, a musician—having discovered the Blind Café years ago in Sweden, brought it here to the US. Thanks to his and many others’ hard work, it now flourishes all over the country.

Our dinner took place in a local church. My guest and I arrived, enjoying the cool summer’s evening, and then, with perhaps 30 other guests, waited (with a bunch of cute puppies—the Boulder Blind Cafe donates money to “Boulder Guide Dog Puppy Raisers, a local organization that raise puppies to become guide dogs”) to be led into a dark room. A really dark room—our hosts took pains to make sure that no light gets in, at all. All phones are turned off. Windows are blacked out. The only thing our eyes would see for the next two hours was…nothing.

Sitting at a table with four others, my friend and I enjoyed an awkward (where’s the bread? Where’s the oil? What’s this, dessert? etc.), fun, yummy, simple vegetarian meal. With a plastic water bottle (as an eco boy, I never drink plastic…but given the circumstances, the organizers explained that guests needed something they could handle without spilling).

All the waiters (who volunteer for the night) are leaders of the local blind community. I led my party in, in a sort of conga line…I myself, of course, being led by a thoughtful blind host. I walked in, making jokes and feeling good.

But soon after sitting down, I felt…claustrophobia. Not of anything in our immediate environment—our hosts had taken pains to make sure we were comfortable and happy. But there’s a groundlessness, an Alice-through-the-looking-glass moment where I (and most of my fellow guests, as we discussed later) experienced a small hit of what it is like to lose sight as a reference point. What would I do if I were blind? How would I make calls? How would I make friends? How could I get around? What would I do for a living? Could I have girlfriends? Could I get married, have children? Could I run for office? Could I keep my dog? The next two hours were an ever-unfolding series of small revelations.

Luckily, my friend was there beside me, and we could talk, and we touch knees (casual physical contact, something I normally am uncomfortable, became something immediately helpful), and soon the other guests and the food and hosts helped me to relax. After a few minutes of eating and talking, and briefly trying to explore the room (which in my mind’s eye was low-ceilinged, smallish, with rounded corners…kind of like a Hobbit’s house)…our blind hosts began a 15-minute Q&A. After eight or so great questions, I asked how those of us with sight could best be of simple service out on the streets…the answer was “Don’t touch us first—say hello and ask if we need help getting across the street, etc.”

The Q&A was enlightening. Children at the dinner asked several funny questions, and our hosts—particularly Gerry Leary, the head roaster at Unseen Bean, a local coffee roaster and cafe, were helpful and charming.

Finally, Rosh and his talented friends, One Eye Glass Broken, played a live concert—maybe six songs. We were encouraged not to talk, but simply to relax, focus, and listen with our full attention. My friend and I wanted to dance, but would’ve just wound up tripping over tables and ruining the concert…so we put our hands together and let our fingers do the dancing.

The night was eye-opening—no pun intended, and fun. My friend and I were able to connect on a level far beyond the usual movie/dinner/whatever. We were able to connect, as we all did with one another that night, more directly—as raw, vulnerable, feeling human beings.

It’s an experience I recommend highly, and personally.

For more information, click here.

“In addition to producing and performing at the events, Rosh donates a portion of his profits to Boulder Guide Dog Puppy Raisers Club. He says he’s excited by the notion that these donations guarantee new harnesses — normally costing $300 each — to blind persons and guide dogs who need them.”


Cartoon: What it’s like to be Blind.

Comments via Reddit:

Wow, this was awesome. The details made it so heartwarming — such as her imagining the bus smoking a pipe, because the exhaust smelled like smoke. Great video.

…Or the woodpecker/jackhammer.

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