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.
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…
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?
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…
It’s no small undertaking to arrange a show with 13 performers when 9 of them are visually impaired and 1 of them is a dog. Yet, that’s what the South African Library for the Blind and the truly awesome project coordinator, Catherine Baron from Inkanyezi Events, managed to do. Without a hitch, I might add. And we were treated like royalty every step of the way.
Instead of staying at the Graham Hotel with the rest of the team, Afsana, Fiji and I were booked into the Evelyn Guest House, which is also owned by the hotel. My room was comfortable, spacious and – to my joy – had a garden where Fiji could run around and have necessary grass time.
Admittedly, I found the large open room difficult to navigate at first. Unsurprisingly, since it was an unfamiliar space. So I put my orientation skills training into practise and started to figure out the room layout.
Once I’d navigated my way round the room, I discovered the sound of the refrigerator was a great audio cue. I could always hear the fridge and knew where everything else was relative to it. And suddenly navigating the space became easy.
At the end of our second day in Makhanda, when Craig joined us, I was completely at home in the space. So, when Craig asked if we could turn off the fridge since it would keep him awake, I was so comfortable in the space that I could manage almost as well without it.
Going back to the guest house itself, it was cute to see how the staff took to Fiji. They were really great about making sure both she and I had everything we needed. And I appreciated how conscientious they were about keeping the outside gate shut so there was no danger of Fiji escaping to go and see some shows on her own.
Talking about Fiji, it was meant to be her turn to write an article for the blog today. But she was so warmly snuggled up in her new doggy bed that I didn’t want to disturb her. But don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll post an article soon.
I’ll admit I was a tiny bit nervous when accepting Afsana’s offer to accompany me to Makhanda so I could perform in the Blind Date Show at the National Arts Festival.
I wasn’t nervous about Afsana accompanying me – I knew she’d be a great travelling companion and that I’d be in safe hands. Rather, it was the unfamiliarity of travelling with someone other than Craig that gave me pause. While I’ve known Afsana for several years, we’ve never really spent much time together and I wasn’t certain how well she understood the challenges of travelling with someone who’s not only blind but is also a Type 1 diabetic. Oh, not to mention her occasionally boisterous guide dog, Fiji!
Yet, what a great traveling companion Afsana turned out to be! We spent hours chatting – on the flight to Port Elizabeth, on the two-hour bus journey to Makhanda, and over several meals before meeting the others who were performing in the show. And Afsana connected with Fiji as well, even teaching her a new command (“Reverse, Fiji”).
When Craig joined us at the end of our second day in Makhanda I made a discovery that’s given me lots to think through. When Afsana and I were navigating our way round Makhanda I did so with a greater level of independence than normal. And certainly a greater level of independence than when Craig joined us.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Craig deprives me of my independence. He doesn’t. But, when I’m with him I fall into the habit of letting him do most of the work when he’s guiding me. It’s just so much easier since I don’t have to concentrate as much on what’s happening around me.
Whereas, since Afsana left it to me to tell her when I might need guidance, I tended to work it out on my own.
What I need to figure out is whether or not I should break the habit of letting Craig do more of the work, or if it’s okay since I manage on my own the rest of the time. In reality, I guess the answer is somewhere between the two. Regardless, understanding how I manage my own independence has taught me that I’m never too old to gain insights into how I live my life. Which is valuable to me.
And, having the opportunity of getting to know Afsana better remains one of the highlights of a truly unforgettable time in Makhanda. I’m so glad I accepted her offer to come with me on the trip.
The photo was taken by Afsana and shows Fiji and me sitting at the back of the bus travelling between Port Elizabeth and Makhanda.
When mom and I arrived in Makhanda, which lots of people also call Grahamstown, I had no idea I was going to have such fun!
First, I met a whole lot of people who were happy to pat me and play with me. Then, since mom and I were walking around lots of new places, I got lots of treats. As well as the enjoyment of learning new routes and going to places I’ve never been before. And then dad arrived to take me on two runs, which was also great. And I even got to meet one of my colleagues – a newly-retired guide dog called Vanilla. Okay, meeting some donkeys was a bit weird, since they were walking down the middle of the main road. And I really missed my doggy sisters, Emily and Allie. But, overall, the trip was lots of fun.
Best of all, I discovered what fun it was performing on stage at a show and wagging at all the people in the audience. I’ll admit waiting backstage wasn’t much fun. But I just loved the excitement, the bright lights and the applause. And I was amazing – everybody said so.
Oh, and mom got to play some songs in the show as well. But she can tell you about that if she wants to.
Guess where I’ll be this coming weekend – the National Arts Festival in Makhana, formerly Grahamstown. And I’ll be playing a gig while I’m there!
I’m one of the artists performing at the Blind Date Variety Show that’s part of the Fringe Festival – details are in the advert. You can book on the National Arts Festival website: www.nationalartsfestival.co.za
And Fiji will be there with me so no doubt both she and I will blog about our experiences in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, if you happen to be attending the National Arts Festival, it would be great to see you at our show…
As a guide dog, I know that, if there’s going to be a problem on a route, that it will always happen at the same spot. It’s almost an unwritten law amongst us guide dogs and our human partners. Well, in my case, if there’s going to be a problem it’ll happen at what mom and I have taken to calling That Corner.
To be honest, in our case it’s actually two corners, on both sides of the intersection of the road that crosses the railway line and the road we walk on to go to the train station or the local shopping centre. And maybe I’m over-exaggerating and maybe sometimes we face obstacles at other places on our route, but it really feels like it always happens there.
It was at That Corner where the Rottweiler escaped from her property and threatened us. Which made me adjust our route slightly to avoid stepping on her driveway, just in case. I don’t think she’d really manage to break out again, but it’s just easier to avoid her territory and walk on the road instead. Leaving her to throw herself at her gate and snarl at us as we trot past.
It was also on That Corner where the human owners decided they didn’t want people on their grass and covered the pavement with big stones. So we walk on the road on that segment as well. And it’s That Corner that’s now a crumbled ruin, which mom tells me is due to the fiber-optic installation, whatever that means.
As if that’s not enough, it’s on the other side of That Corner that we have to weave our way round two street signs, two mostly submerged concrete slabs that mom said are also for Fiber-optics, and a huge lavender bush. Oh, and there’s often a car parked there too so we have to navigate round that. It takes some fancy footwork on my part, I can tell you! A week or so back we even had to navigate a big plastic bin that appeared on That Corner as well, which made it even more of an adventure. Happily, that bin didn’t stay for long so we’re back to just the normal chaos for now.
Here’s the thing about That Corner: Even though both mom and I get a little anxious when we have to navigate past whatever obstacles there are on any given day, we always manage to do so and emerge on the other side wagging our tails like crazy. Well, I have to wag on mom’s behalf since she doesn’t have a tail. But I’m sure she would also be wagging like crazy if she did. Because we work so well as a team. And that’s what it’s all about.
I know mom’s writing about her recent trip to India, so I decided to keep to her theme. From my own perspective, of course!
Even though mom’s back now, I want to go back to the day before she left – to that moment when I first noticed that the dreaded suitcases had emerged from the cupboard…
I don’t automatically detest suitcases. It’s not a Pavlovian response, by any means. But I do get very suspicious when I see them lying open in the bedroom. Because that’s when the uncertainty and the hopefulness begins.
You see, I only hate suitcases if mom isn’t taking me with her on her travels. Otherwise they’re a symbol of excitement and new adventures. The thing is, I only discover if I’m going along much, much later– she packs all the same things regardless of whether or not I’m going with her. So that doesn’t help me know how to react.
I can’t even tell by looking at whether there’s one or two suitcases involved. Because sometimes mom takes me, dad or both of us with her and sometimes she leaves us both at home.
So, it’s very hard for me to figure out if I should glare at the suitcases or not.
This time it turned out mom and dad were going, and I was being left behind with my doggy sisters and Aunty Claire. Which was okay. Only I miss mom when she’s away and I miss taking her for her walks. I just hope dad remembers to take her for walks when I’m not there. I mean, I trust him and all that, but just wish I could always be there to be sure.
And that’s why I only detest suitcases some of the time.
PS: Mom told me she’s probably taking me on her next trip, which will be when she performs at the Grahamstown Festival this year. I really hope she does!
Walking on my own across the road to my neighbours house should be simple, right? I mean, it’s less than 10 metres. So, it should be easy.
Well yes, it should. But I’ve never done it
At least, not before my second Orientation and Mobility lesson with Golden Dzapasi, of the Cape Town Society for the Blind. Which is totally crazy, since we’ve always got on really well with the neighbours and I’ve visited the house tons of times. I’ve just never walked across the road entirely on my own. Someone’s always walked with me
Not that I’m going to bother the neighbours all the time just because I can – that’s not the point. Besides, it’s not very neighbourly. But at least now I can get there if I need to.
And it’s quite liberating.
Now, if I could just find a way to reassure my guide dog that learning to use my mobility cane doesn’t mean she’s going to be out of a job…