Today it is raining. A heavy waterfall of icy winter precipitation is converting my frost bitten lawn into a muddy pond. The constant downpour has created a solid wall around my working senses and has robbed me of my ability to navigate, like I normally do. Many people ask me what some of the biggest challenges are that blind people are forced to deal with when living without sight. Heavy rain is one such challenge. Listening to the mass of water funnelling off the roof and through the branches of the bare trees, I am grateful to be warm and dry and at home. As the rain settles into a calming thrum and pitter patter, this audible backdrop has set the scene to share with you how the weather affects me and generally gets under my skin.
Right now as I am typing away with my frost bitten fingers and struggling to hear my Apple Mac’s VoiceOver software speak the letters and words to me, the infamous Cape winter continues to flex its might. Rain is beating down like nails falling on steel as it drums upon the windows and the paving that leads a pathway from my front door to my home office. The occasional sound of thunder is almost deafening and water is puddling everywhere. The dogs, although covered up and laying on top of each other in their warm bed, are upset and moaning at every loud crack of thunder as well as every gust of gale-force wind.
A visually impaired person, like me, relies heavily on sounds to navigate. I don’t use my long white mobility stick at home much, certainly not indoors. When outside, the feel and sound of my cane’s roller scrapping the ground is paramount in helping me to figure out where the bumps in my path lie ahead. This sensation is gone when the ground is little more than a flowing stream. The sounds of people in my path and echoes emitting off walls as I move about are also not so readily audible to me when navigating in a rainy haze.
Then there is smell, or lack thereof when the weather is acting up as it is today. I know this may sound crazy to a sighted person, but, yes, this is also helpful as a navigation aid for us blind people. When the rain is not pouring and the wind is asleep, I can tell when I am walking past the lavender that grows between the side gate and the deck. I can tell which way I am facing by the scent of burning incense that our neighbours love to smoulder every morning. The scent always finds its way over the wall and gets carried past my office most mornings by the prevailing breeze. This is however, not the case when the winter weather has attacked.
So right now, as I listen to the rain, I cannot hear the dogs barking across the street as people pass. Nor can I hear the rumble of homeward-bound rush hour traffic in the distance. I cannot hear the noisy kids skateboarding in the road outside our front gate, nor the pedestrians passing by with the sound of distorted music emitting from their mobile phones . I am robbed of the sounds I have become so accustomed to. I just hear water falling and the wind carrying squall after squall over from the nearby seaside.
Some sighted people have asked me from time to time if it is indeed true that when a person looses their sight that their other senses become enhanced. I don’t think they are improved as such, we sightless are just forced to put more focus on the listening, tactile and smelling abilities we still have. So, unfortunately, blindness does not come with any superhero abilities like spiderman’s enhanced 6th ‘spider sense’ or Superman’s superhuman hearing. We are just forced, out of necessity, to take the time to feel, listen and smell our way around.
When I first lost my eye sight, oh did I struggle. I had to learn to focus in a totally different way. There were fingers that got bloodies when slammed into unseen closing car doors. Black eyes, plus bruises on my knees, from falling over snoring hounds. Knocked head and bloody nose from misjudging doorways and openings. Bleeding foreheads from head-butting tree branches that hung too low over pathways. Sore bums from slipping on wet tiled floors and while stumbling to climb out of the bath. Many broken glasses and spilled drinks while trying to navigate the dinner table minefield, both at home and while out at restaurants. Yes, not all of these things could have been avoided if I could have heard better, but certainly a large amount of pain could have been evaded.
Things are different now. I listen with superman ears and gently feel my way around making sure that nothing is in my route. I smell the odours to advise me of my place, whether it is the stench of rotten kelp on the beach pointing out the direction of the sea or the toxic fumes of the petrol pumps as I pass the gas station. Most importantly, I feel my way around. Sometimes with my white graphite cane and sometimes with my hands. I guess what I am trying to say is that, yes, the other senses, are very important to a blind person.
So, with that said, bring on summer. Winter is definitely more of a challenging time for me. All I can do is stay in the safety of indoors when, on days like today, the skies are not so friendly to me.
It does not hurt to dream of my friends in the Northern Hemisphere, who are no doubt complaining about the heat at the moment. I would gladly swap a few degrees with them. It would also come with a little gift of rain and wind – be warned, before you accept the trade. And yes, the Celsius to Fahrenheit exchange rate would at last be in my favour, unlike that of the Rand to the US$ or Euro..
Perhaps a privileged few of these Northerners are at a Caribbean themed seaside bistro with a coconut filled pina colada in hand. Don’t forget the little pink umbrella of course. There will be gentle sounds of a steel drum being tapped and guitar strings plucking away as the band in the corner entertains them. The sun will be hovering over the ocean as it nears the water edge while still shining some rays over the bay and keeping everyone warm and toasty. The smell in the air will be that of garlic-laced roasted meat with subtle Jamaican Jerk spiced seasoning. The sounds of the mellow music will only be broken by the soft chatter of the other restaurant customers and occasionally the bell from the kitchen announcing that the next meal is ready for collection. Oh well, soon the mosquitoes will get you all. At least the rain is making it impossible for them to fly here.
So, as I face the prospects of yet another wet, cold and noisy mid-winters night here at the southern tip of Africa, I am going to take some time to relax. I now plan to climb into my bed where my electric blanket has been warming the sheets. A quick cup of hot chocolate and a few minutes of listening to the rain before snuggling up to my gorgeous wife, Mrs Blind Scooter Guy, while avoiding her cold toes and drifting off to sleep. I will be dreaming tonight of all those mosquitoes biting away at the warm people, friends and foes around the globe. I hope you guys itch like hell.
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