Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles

Book Cover

I’ve recently discovered a love of reading travel memoirs. While it in no way replaces the experience of exploring different countries and cultures, it does at least give me a taste of the travel I used to be able to do, and will hopefully be able to return to in time to come.
A travel memoir I read recently was Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles – aka Tony the Traveller. It is the story of a trip Tony took to several countries in Southern Africa in 2004 and 2005. During that time he visited South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
As a blind and hearing impaired traveller, Tony describes his travels through his other senses, much as I do when I travel. Having said that, Tony is far more adventurous than I am and is always ready to bungee jump, go white river rafting or seek out other adventure activities, which he also describes with his customary sense of humour

There were a couple of things I found fascinating about reading about Tony’s time in Southern Africa. First, unlike me, Tony is happy to head out and explore the world totally on his own, trusting he will be able to find assistance should he need it. And, from what I read in his book, mostly he manages to do so.
Secondly, I found it fascinating seeing cities and countries that I’ve visited through the eyes of a stranger, and a tourist. I often find that tourists see a different side to a city than we do as residents. I found this especially true while reading Tony’s book. I felt a similar thing when my brother and sister-in-law visited Cape Town a few years ago and Craig and I got to see Cape Town through their eyes.

So, if you’re interested in discovering how a blind and hearing impaired man travels through several Southern African countries on his own, and experience the wonderous world of travel through senses other than sight, or if you simply want to get a taste of travel while we are still not really free to explore new destinations due to the global pandemic, I’d highly recommend reading Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way by Tony Giles. And, if you enjoy it, you can try the other two books in the series so far: Seeing the World My Way and Seeing the Americas My way. I know I’ll be reading them in the near future when I have the urge to travel again, at least by book.

Speaking at the HerStory Women’s Global Empowerment Conference

HerStory ONLINE SUMMIT Tag  Lois Strachan May 2021

Last month I was honoured to be a speaker at the HerStory Women’s Global Empowerment Conference. The conference and the HerStory platform are the brainchild of Zimbabwean-born Getrude Matshe, who has been building the concept for the past few years, first as in-person conferences and currently as online summits.

My 15-minute presentation was on the topic of independence and it’s meaning for me as a blind person, touching on the need for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace.
You can watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqLQvX5vnMs

A Sneak Peek at Fiji’s Book

The image shows a book cover with the title Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide dog, and a yellow Labrador’s face

“I am named Fiji, and am a yellow Labrador cross Golden Retriever.
I have a very special job – I’m a guide dog for the blind. Being a guide dog takes discipline and focus, but it also means my life is full of excitement. I have had plenty of adventures with my mom, Lois Strachan, both as a guide and when my harness is released.
I have had a real dog’s life and boy, I have loved every bit of it. And I am here to share it with you in my own words.”

Fiji and I are over the moon to be able to share the first chapter of her book, Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog with you and anyone you know who loves dogs.

You can download the free chapter at https://www.loisstrachan.com/paws-for-thought/

And please share the link – the more people who read it, the better! Because we are so excited to be able to share my beautiful guide dog’s story with the world.
PS Keep watching the blog for updates on when the book will be published in its entirety – we’re working hard to get there!

Paws for Thought on Screen Time

Fiji sleeping

Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!

As I sit here happily remembering the run I had this morning with Dad and my doggy-sister Allie, I got to thinking about something that has been bothering me lately.
How much screen time should we dogs allow our humans?

Because both Mom and Dad seem to spend a whole lot of time sitting staring into a computer screen. Or talking into a computer screen. And I just can’t figure out why they do it.

I know Mom and Dad have lots to do that isn’t of interest to us dogs. Mom seems to love typing into the computer, as does Dad. At least sometimes I can understand when Mom does it, because she’s helping me with my book or with my blog posts, as she’s doing now. It really isn’t so easy for me to type so it makes much more sense for me to tell Mom what I want to say and for her to write it down for me.
But what about the rest of the time? Honestly, there are days when Mom and Dad spend literally hours at the computer. While us dogs find a comfy place to curl up and sleep.

I usually sleep on one of the warm dog beds in the bedroom, my doggy-sister Emily either sleeps on the blanket in the study with Mom or in the doorway so she can keep an eye on what Mom’s doing. My other doggy-sister Allie sometimes sits with Mom but most often curls up on the couch so she can keep an eye on Dad and also make sure no-one can sneak up on the house from outside. And my brand new doggy-brother Onyx usually joins her on the couch as well, so we are doubly safe now.

Maybe all this sounds perfectly normal to you. But to me it simply does not make sense.

Why spend hours and hours staring at a computer when you could be outside walking, running or playing with us dogs? Even though the weather is cooler now, it’s still warm enough to romp around in the garden, or to go for a glorious walkaround the neighbourhood. And if it’s raining, surely it makes far more sense to find a warm and comfy place to curl up and sleep?

Like I’ve said before, sometimes humans really don’t make sense to me!

Back to my original question. How much screen time do you think I should allow Mom and Dad? And how should I distract them from their computers? Any help will be gratefully wagged at.

My Thoughts on Why You Might Want to Listen to My Accessible Travel Podcast

Alt text: The image shows a styalised image of the African continent that resembles a bare foot

I’ve been hosting a podcast on accessible travel for 2 ½ years and have recently been thinking about why someone with no connection to disability might gain value from listening to it.
I believe one of the biggest barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace is a lack of understanding of how we (persons with disabilities) live our lives. Because people don’t understand how we do things, they usually default to imagining that those tasks are not possible for us.

I understand why that barrier exists. On a fundamental level, why should someone with no link to disability know how we operate? It’s rather like expecting everyone in the world to know how a nuclear power station operates, how an orthopedic surgeon does their work, or knowing the intricacies of a retail store stock management system. For the most part we do not need to know and, unless nuclear power stations, retail store stock management or orthopedic surgery impacts directly on our lives, we simply accept that it does what it needs to do. Without needing us to know anything more than that.
Sadly, since many people have no direct contact with a person with a disability, the same appears to hold true. Except that statistics tell us that around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Which means that for every eight people we encounter, one will have a disability, whether visible or not.

In the past few years we have seen a growing awareness of the need to understand the realities of those whose experiences have been different from our own, to be more open to diversity of race, culture, gender, age. Yet somehow the question of ability seldom gets mentioned when the question of diversity is raised. I believe it should be part of that conversation as well.

Which brings us back to why someone with no contact with disability might gain value from listening to my podcast about accessible travel.

  • To learn a little about the barriers the world sets up for persons with disabilities,
  • To learn about the tools and techniques we have at our disposal that allow us to overcome the obstacles we face,
  • To see the strength, resilience, skills and talents that help us achieve what we are passionate about,
  • To understand that we are just the same as persons without disabilities in terms of what we love to do,
  • how we want to live our lives, and experience the world – it is just the way we may do it that may differ

I love having the opportunity of chatting to people about their travel experiences. I learn new things in every single episode. However, I believe the greatest take-away I have gained while interviewing people is the knowledge that, though we may do things in a different way, our experiences and our love for travel are exactly the same.

If you are someone who loves to travel to new places and experience different things, you may discover that the guests on my podcast have much in common with you as well.
Why not dip into the library of episodes of A Different Way of Travelling and see if I’m correct… You can find them at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715

Or on your usual podcast player.

Go on, give it a try!

An Interview on the PublishHer Podcast

Logo

Here is a recent interview I did on how I became a writer. If you are one of the people who would love to write a book but do not know where to start, the PublishHer Podcast might be a great starting point for you.

The PublishHer Podcast is the brainchild of Alexa Bigwarfe, who runs the Write_ Publish_ Sell and the Women in Publishing communities. I’ve learned so much about the publishing industry and marketing books from Alexa and her team and the resources they share. So I was excited when they offered me the opportunity to talk about my experiences as a writer.

Here’s my interview:
https://podcasts.bcast.fm/e/r87rzv6n

I hope you enjoy learning a little more about my writing and the publishing industry.

How I Read Books as a Blind Person

The image shows a stack of books placed one atop another

In the past month I’ve written quite a bit about the books I’ve been reading. Which has resulted in a few questions about how I actually engage with books.
When I first lost my sight I had no idea of how I might be able to read books. Reading had been a fundamental part of my life since I learned to make sense of the written word and I was seldom to be found without a book, or several books, within reach. So I was terrified I might never be able to read again now that I was blind.

Over time I learned how needless that fear was.

As a blind person I have several different options of how to read. I can listen to a book on audio, just as you might listen to a book from Audible. In fact, many visually-impaired people are avid Audible fans and enjoy listening to books being read by human narrators.
I can also listen to a book on my phone or laptop, using the electronic voice of my screen reader, the application that reads whatever appears on the screen of the device. While this may sound like the most foreign of my reading options to someone who is sighted, it is actually my first choice.

The digital screen reader voice is mostly neutral in tone. It adheres to some spoken norms– dropping the tone at the end of a sentence, or raising it to indicate a question.
To me, this gives the closest experience to reading by sight. All too often I find human narrators interpret the words they’re reading. Which means I am somewhat restricted by their interpretation. Reading with a digital voice gives me the freedom to interpret the text and the story using my own imagination, just as I used to do before I became blind.

I admit that I’m part of a very tiny minority of blind bookworms who choose to read this way. Most seem to prefer human narration. Or using braille.
Braille is also useful as a way to read books. Either a visually-impaired person can read a physical braille book, or they can read a book on a digital device using a braille display. While I’m not really a braille user, which means it would take me months to finish a book that would take me only a few hours on my phone or laptop, I’ll be the first to admit that braille is a great way to read a book without requiring the use of one’s ears. For many people, that can be an advantage. Or in some cases, especially for those who are deaf-blind, a necessity.

So there are several ways I could choose to read as a blind person. I want to stress that none of these choices are better or worse than the others. It is entirely a matter of personal preference.
Regardless of how I engage with books, the important thing is that I have several options as a reader who is blind. So I need never be without books, as I thought I would be when I first lost my sight, the memory of which still makes me shudder. And then reach for the comfort of my book reader to reassure myself that all is well with my book world.

Paws for Thought: My Brand New Book Cover!

The image shows the cover of the book Paws for Thought, with a close-up of a yellow Labrador’s head on a teal background.

I’m wagging so hard right now! I finally have a book cover for my forthcoming book, Paws for Thought: Seeing the world through the eyes of a guide dog.

And it’s really pretty. At least I think it is. Because it’s got me on it!

I know you’re probably frustrated that it’s taking so long to get the book out. I know I’m frustrated and we dogs are usually more patient than you humans. Unless we’re waiting to go for a walk or to be fed.

I wish I could get stuck in and help on this part of the process but, as a dog, I realize that sometimes I have to leave things in the paws of Mom and Dad. No matter how long they seem to take.

Dad is busy getting the book ready to go onto Amazon, and is sorting out the ISBN – whatever that is – so we can do a print run here at home for anyone who wants to read a book with actual pages.

Mom is busy writing down what I tell her I want on the book description, and is researching things called keywords and categories. Whatever they are, they seem important to humans. All I know is that occasionally she looks down to where I’m lying and asks me if I think a term will work. And I either sneeze, shake my head or wag my tail at her, depending on how I’m feeling at the time. I don’t know how she interprets my responses but she usually laughs and pats me, so everything must be good.

Anyway, although I know we’ve all been waiting a very long time for this book, I wanted to ask you to be a little bit more patient while we work through the complicated human stuff, and for you to know that we’re working as fast as we can. At least now we have the cover!

A True Spirit of Adventure

Normie Eckard on his handcycle on a road with a Namibian flag

Every time I interview someone for my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling, I learn new ways in which people with disabilities engage with the travel and hospitality industries. This was especially true for the most recent episode we published.

Normie Eckard has been a wheelchair user since a motor accident when he was 18 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in a number of adventures that he uses to fundraise to assist children with disabilities. In the podcast we broke down a few of the adventures he’s done and explored how these were adapted to accommodate his own disability.

If you’re interested to know how Normie was able to skydive, paraglide, go scuba diving and shark cage diving, and ride a quadbike, amongst other things, and about his adventure cycling from Luderitz to Cape Agulhas on a handcycle, you can find out by listening to the episode at the following link:

http://iono.fm/e/1020502

While you’re there, it would be great if you could subscribe to the podcast to join me as I continue to learn from each new guest I have the honour to interview.

Paws for Thought on the Perplexity of Cooking

Fiji looking at a bag of dog foodHello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!

I know I say it often, but there are some things about humans that confuse me. Like why they feel the need to ruin perfectly yummy food by cooking it.

I mean, I’m ecstatically happy to be given a bowl of pellets at mealtimes. I’m so excited that I start to run straight to my food spot as soon as Mom picks up my bowl. but then I lose sight of my food. And get Scared that Mom might get distracted. So I spin back to check. And then I continue my spin so I don’t crash into the doorway. And then spin around again to check my food is still on its way. I think my greatest number of complete spins is eleven. I know it looks like I’m chasing my tail. But I’m not.

When we reach the spot, I sit down like I’m meant to, quivering with excitement. And Mom eventually puts my bowl on the ground. A fraction of a second after she tells me I can eat I dive in. And gobble my food as fast as I can. Because I have to finish before my doggy-sisters do, or they’ll try to steal mine. And they both feel the same.

But not mom and dad. No, they have to get all fancy and complicated with their food. In all sorts of peculiar ways. They either fry, roast, grill, boil, poach or steam it. And for what? It doesn’t make it last any longer before it’s all gobbled down.

Okay, I admit that when Dad cooks meat me and my sisters get intoxicated by the delicious scent of the meat cooking. And, joy of all joys, if he gives us a teeny bit of the meat to taste after it’s cooked, it certainly tastes wonderful. But it takes sooo long before it’s ready to eat.
If you ask me, even if it does taste delicious, I bet it would taste almost as good if we just ate it without all the fuss of cooking it first. And it wouldn’t take as long to prepare – just drop it in our bowls and it’ll be gone before you can say “Eat it”.

Somehow Mom and Dad just don’t see it that way and insist on spending unnecessary time cooking it. Apart from salad, which we dogs wouldn’t want to eat any way. Except perhaps for my sister Emily, who will eat almost anything. Except parsley, celery tops and brussels sprouts.
Drat! Talking about all this food has made me hungry. I wonder how long it is till supper.

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