Fiji

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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.

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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…

Makhanda – The Evelyn Guest House and a Note from Fiji

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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.

On Independence – You’re Never Too Old to Learn

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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.
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Paws for Thought on the National Arts Festival 2019

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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.

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