I fell in love with braille when I learnt it in 2001. I was 35 at the time – four years after I had gone blind and just two weeks after my husband had left me and my two boys. The blindness had started in 1997 as a shimmer in my left eye which turned into a haze. When it spread into my right eye, I was left legally blind. All I could see was moving shapes and high contrasts. The inflammation of the retina was caused by an unknown virus and it soon took my remaining sight. When my husband left, I had to adapt yet again, this time to single blind parenting. Learning braille was a deliberate act of doing something positive when everything else was negative.
Early in 2009, I travelled to Paris with my new love, Ron, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of braille inventor Louis Braille. An international conference was held with more than 400 people from 46 countries. We also wanted to explore possible destinations for Ron’s part of the adventure. He decided that the second leg of our journey would be Egypt and Jordan. Given that my idea of a good time was sitting on the couch ‘watching’ Dallas on DVD with a whole packet of chocolate biscuits to myself, I was not impressed. It sounded dangerous at minimum. Wasn’t it a hotspot of tourism tragedy and all-round trouble? But I finally gave way to my rule of always trying something once and turned my response from “no” into “why not?”
The birthday celebrations in Paris ended at Louis Braille’s birthplace 40km out of Paris. I put my hands on the raised letters Louis Braille’s father had placed on a board so he could read print letters. It was magic.
We went to Cairo and explored the ancient city. My fingers were able to explore the Pyramids of Giza as I walked up the mighty structures. The engravings were fascinating. I was often afforded the luxury of running my hand over the historic symbols. Symbols such as the key of life as well as Ramses II’s upper leg were not safe from this blind woman’s exploration.
We went into Jordan where we took a dip in the Dead Sea. This was one of the highlights of the trip. Being blind yet buoyant was an unforgettable sensory experience.
I came home a different person. Fancy nearly denying myself this opportunity because of my fear. On our return, I emailed the managing director of Innovative Travel, the New Zealand company who organised our tour to say thank you. Robyn Galloway replied, saying she was considering running tours for blind and vision-impaired people and asked if Ron and I would be interested in leading them. Would we what! I had only two words in reply: “Why not?”