Fiji

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You Want Me to Talk about What?

several people sitting around a table, including Lois Strachan

It’s not often I feel nervous when going to facilitate a session on disability at an organisation. Yet that was definitely the way I was feeling as I climbed out of the Uber to run a recent day-long training at the Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB).

I wasn’t nervous about facilitating a daylong session, nor for presenting to students at CTSB – facilitation is one of the things I do on a regular basis and my relationship with CTSB over the past two years has meant I’ve spoken for them at a number of events, including presenting a keynote at their AGM, and another at a fundraising dinner, and I presented the commencement address at their graduation in 2018. So neither of those aspects made me anxious.

Rather, it was the topic that had my nerves working overtime – they’d asked me to speak about romantic relationships. And that topic is definitely out of my comfort zone.

Here’s the thing – I’m happy to tell the story of how Craig and I met (it was my guide dog, Leila’s fault). I’m equally willing to talk about how we accommodate my visual impairment with things like household chores. But going any deeper than that is just too personal for me. So, what made me nervous was how I’d reply if the conversation drifted into areas where I wasn’t comfortable.

In the end, the session proved to be both easier and harder than I’d anticipated. I described what I thought a good relationship might look like, and some signs that might indicate a relationship isn’t healthy. I shared stories from my life to illustrate what I meant in each case. Then the group spent a few hours asking questions and sharing their own experiences about relationships.

What made it easier than I’d initially feared was the fact that the group respected the boundaries that I wasn’t really comfortable talking about. What made it harder was to listen to some of the stories of what the students had experienced, and were still experiencing.

I left the CTSB with a profound sense of gratitude for all that I have in my life. Not to mention a sense of respect and awe for the strength, resilience and determination of the students I’d been privileged to spend the day with.

PS: Fiji also had loads of fun, since she got to meet two other guide dogs, which happens only rarely when I speak at organisations.
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Paws for Thought on a Human Idiosyncrasy

The image shows the head of a blonde Labrador, wearing a white collar.
I really don’t understand humans sometimes. Like when mom and I go to a shop or a bank and we see lots and lots of people standing behind one another. Mom calls this queueing.

Dogs don’t queue. Nor do most other animals, though I’ve seen young ducks following their mothers in something a bit like a queue. But at least they’re moving. Unlike humans in shops – they simply stand there doing nothing for what seems like a long time before moving forward a single step and then doing nothing again.

For me, it seems far more reasonable to simply take mom to the front of the line of people. I mean, doesn’t that make sense to you? But mom always laughs, pats me and says we have to wait our turn.

Like I’ve said, it doesn’t make sense to me. But I do it because mom asks me to and I love my mom lots. Besides, as a well-trained guide dog I’m meant to do what she says, even if I don’t understand why.

Sometimes the shops are clever and don’t make me and mom stand in a queue – they send someone to assist mom and we wait by the counter until they help us. Now, that makes more sense to me.

Yet, even at our local shop, where they do this, I often see other people standing in those peculiar lines. But at least mom and I don’t have to do it.

I’ve long become accustomed to the reality that I won’t always understand the way humans behave. They’re not dogs, after all. And that’s okay, because I also don’t understand the way cats, birds or children behave. But it would be nice if someone could explain things to me every now and then.

Paws for Thought on My Story

Fiji puppy

A Few days ago mom and I were wandering through Facebook and found this image from five years ago, when me and my brothers and sisters started puppy walking. The photo was originally posted by the SA Guide-Dog Association and was shared by my sister Faith’s mom.

From left to right, my litter siblings are Friday (black), Flanagan (black), Faron (black). Next is me (yellow, of course), and my sister Faith (yellow). On the extreme right is Finley (black).

I’m very proud of my sisters Faith and Finley, both of whom are moms of more guide dog puppies. I’m not sure why my brother Fenton and my sister Fia aren’t in the picture but know Fenton and Faith hang out together at puppy class, where they go to teach the puppies all about being a good guide dog.

So much has happened since that photo was taken – I spent a year in Johannesburg being puppy walked, moved to Cape Town and had lots of adventures during training before finally meeting my forever mom and teaching her all about being more independent.

As I stared at the picture of those happy, wide-eyed youngsters of a mere 8 weeks old, I wondered what advice I’d give to my younger self. And realized I’d simply tell her that everything was going to turn out wonderfully and not to worry about anything, to have fun and just welcome all that life was going to offer her.

Oh, and that noisy trucks and busses aren’t actually all that scary – provided you watch them carefully to make sure they behave like they ought to!

Mom asked me to tell you she’ll start posting about her recent trip to France soon.

With wags from a slightly older guide dog Fiji than the one in the photo.

Shh! Don’t Tell Anyone…

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I’m going to let you into a secret – right now I’m sitting in a small town in the middle of Normandy in France. Yes, I’m actually taking a break from what has turned out to be a wonderfully busy and exciting year.

I’ve been in France for more than a week already and have lots of stories and experiences to share with you when I get back home to Cape Town. At least Fiji’s still keeping the home fires burning, or there wouldn’t have been a blog post last week!

Anyway, I hope you don’t mind if I keep this post short. I still have lots of things to do and places to see and don’t want to wait a moment longer to get out and see what else Bayeux has to offer.

Paws for Thought on the Couch

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The very first day mom brought me home from guide dog training school I had a meeting with my new doggy siblings, Eccles, Emily and Calvin. They told me that mom and dad were already mostly well trained, with one exception – we weren’t allowed to sleep on the furniture.

I gave the matter some thought and decided it would be okay to just sleep on the warm and comfy blankets scattered around the house. Except for anytime mom went out and forgot to take me with her – of course I’d curl up on the couch then. But never when mom and dad were home.

Everything changed the day my doggy sister Allie came to live with us.

When she walked into the house Allie leapt up onto the couch and curled up. No matter what dad did, she’d somehow find her way there. When he eventually put planks of wood across the couch she simply tried pulling the cushions out so she could sleep on them. And landed up tearing the cushions to pieces.

After two weeks dad gave up… and the no-couch rule went out the window.

It took a little time for my doggy sister Emily and I to break the years of no-couch conditioning. Then we decided to try our luck. Because, ultimately, it would be horribly unfair if mom and dad yelled at us for doing something that Allie was allowed to.

Now, though we don’t do it often because we have beautifully comfy dog beds, Emily and I sometimes curl up on the couch as well.

Which only goes to prove that you can teach old humans new tricks!

Hmm, I wonder if we can train mom and dad to let us sleep on the bed as well. It might be worth a try…

The photo shows Allie asleep on the couch.

A Video of a Working Guide Dog

Do you know how hard it is to video Fiji guiding me across a road? It should be easy, right? But maybe not so much when you have one hand on the guide dog harness and the other hand providing dog treats at each step of the process. Because that leaves no hands to hold the phone to record the whole thing.

So, when a friend asked if she could video Fiji working as part of a lesson for one of the schools she works with, I jumped at the chance. Even better, she asked if Fiji and I could speak to the learners as well, which I’m always happy to do. Okay, I got to speak to the learners. Fiji only had to look cute- which she does very well!

Shani gave me the video – so here it is!

Craig, please add link here.

Happy Birthday, Me!

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It was my birthday on Friday. My 5th birthday, to be exact. And I celebrated in the best ways possible!

My celebrations started on Thursday evening when mom, dad and I went out for dinner. And the whole team from the Cape Town office of the SA Guide-Dogs Association were there to wish me for my special day. I know they said they were there for a work function because one of the alphas was visiting from Johannesburg, but I’m sure they were really there for me.

Then, dad took me and my doggy sister, Allie, for a run on the evening of my actual birthday. It was lots of fun and it didn’t even rain while we were running, which was even better.

And then I got a big marrow bone to chew on Saturday. My doggy sisters Emily and Allie also got bones. That’s because I was brought up to believe that sharing is caring. Besides, if they hadn’t also got bones to chew, they’d have tried to steal mine.

The only thing that would’ve made my birthday better is if mom and I could’ve gone for a walk… but when mom went outside to check the weather, she found it was raining. So I had a good play with mom and my sister Allie instead.

Mom asked me if I considered myself to be 5 or 35, which I believe is the human age equivalent. If it’s all the same, I think I’ll stick to being 5… from what I’ve seen of humans, 35-year old’s have far less fun than 5-year old’s!
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Paws for Thought on Unexpected Meetings

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When mom and I were in Makhanda the last thing I expected was to have an all-too-brief playdate with another guide dog. So, when mom, dad and I slipped away from the farewell meeting of all those involved in the Blind date Concert and disappeared into the depths of the SA Library for the Blind building I wasn’t certain where we were going.

Much to my joy, we turned a corner and there was a black Labrador – a guide dog named Vanilla. Well, to be exact, a recently retired guide dog named Vanilla.

And it was such fun to say hello and exchange quick nose sniffs and tail wags. I could tell that Vanilla wasn’t very well – mom told me later that she had cancer – so I was careful to be gentle while also having a good play.

Sadly, Vanilla has since gone to doggy heaven, but I know she’s having great fun playing there with all the other guide dogs, including my aunts Leila and Eccles.

I’m just glad I got to meet her, even if we had to rush off to catch the bus for our trip home to Cape Town.

The photo is of me and mom and Vanilla and her mom, Pasha.

Makhanda: It’s Showtime, Folks!

I wish I had time to describe the entire Blind Date Concert I took part in at the National Arts festival in Makhanda in June this year – the rich diversity of personalities, music, poetry and performances; the energy and wit of our dynamic MC, Fiks Mahola; the professionalism of our stage crew who managed our sound, lighting and props so efficiently; and, of course, our wonderfully responsive audiences.

I’d love to be able to share the entire experience with you so you could understand what a special show this was. But sadly, all I can do at this stage is to share a video of my own performance.

This was recorded on the second night of the show and includes an introduction by award-winning blind poet Lelethu “Poetic Soul” Mahambehlala, who graced each of us with a poem based on our own stories. Lelethu was dynamite, as I’m sure you’ll see when you watch the clip.

On that note, it’s showtime, folks! So, get ready for your cue…

Makhanda: Creating a Shared Vision.

Blind date

I know many people feel out of their depth when they’re put into a crowd of people they don’t know. And I suppose I can understand why – unless you’re comfortable chatting to people you don’t know, it can be quite a daunting experience.

So, how would you facilitate introducing a group of blind performers who haven’t met before? One would think it would be even harder, right?

And yet…

As the group of the blind performers, sighted assistants, technical crew and one guide dog met for lunch and a rehearsal ahead of the Blind Date Concert performances, it really didn’t seem hard at all. After the welcome by the SA Library for the Blind, we sat down over lunch to get to know one another, and very soon were laughing over stories of our experiences as blind and visually impaired people living in a sighted world. You’d be amazed at how much common ground we found about the tools and techniques we use to do the things we want to do.

Of course, as a group we represented pretty much the entire spectrum from quiet and retiring right the way through to outgoing and exuberant, but that didn’t seem to matter as we sat and chatted. And no, I’m not going to tell you where I think I fall on that continuum.

By the time our fun and energetic show director, Niqui Cloete-Barrass, from boost Creative Solutions, called us back to order to begin our first and only rehearsal, we were already a united team. Which listening to one another’s sets as we ran through the show only enhanced since it gave us a shared vision of what we could achieve with the show.

And so, amped with the energy of a great rehearsal, we left the SA Library for the Blind primed and ready for our early morning make-up calls and the following day’s show. Which is where I’m going to leave us – until next time, when I’ll tell you about the show itself…

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