June 16th – What Do You See?

By Naomi Crisp

Sight without seeing

Sight without seeing

Today we were leaving Livingstonia and we watched the sunrise before packing. It was so different than yesterdays; there were no pre-sun colours, only the slow appearance of the fireball that quickly hid itself behind a cloud leaving only its reflection on the water. The changing colours on Lake Malawi made me wonder what the sun was doing behind the clouds, what am I missing? Little did I know I would be asking myself a similar question for the entire day.

We had our breakfast and walked down the mountain. We were worried about the bus being too heavy with us on it going down and it was a good excuse to hike. It took us two hours to get down the long and winding road. We took a couple of short cuts but got told not to so it was the dirt and rock path for us. Every now and then we would get a glorious breeze as we walked, that along with the view was perfect. As we saw the town approaching, the bus was getting close behind us so we decided to race it. We won! Soon enough we were on the road again. As we passed the area where we had seen the monkeys on the way up, we saw them again; this time they were running along side the bus. It was amazing to see the baby clinging on for dear life while the Mum sprinted with us.

About 30 minutes along the highway, we passed through a village. It was there that my thoughts were set alight. I saw a man wearing glasses and it seemed wrong. I have had the conversation multiple times with people about the lack of glasses but that was due to this fact I hadn’t actually seen someone in them. It was this sight and the confusion it struck in me that really made me think about it. When preparing to come to Africa I made myself envision the worst; extreme poverty, runny nosed children and huts for homes. As heartbreaking as these realities are, I felt it was hypocritical to focus on such a thing as poverty when our own countries are faced with it (not to the same extreme and population but still visible) yet we turn a blind eye to it. It took something as seemingly insignificant and taken for granted as glasses to push me to this point. For someone who needs glasses and feels incredibly uncomfortable without them, this reality of vision not being a necessity was mind blowing. The thought that the ability to see is not put into consideration due to the need for food, shelter and clothing being the focus gave new perspective on the lifestyle here. In Canada and Western societies, glasses are now a fashion statement, branding scam and academic power trip. They are invisible to us mentally and with contacts, they are invisible to us physically. Here in Malawi, they are invisible economically. The question I ask the people here is ‘what do you see?’ There is not a lack of glasses because people don’t need them…what do you see? Who is walking around not knowing that you’re meant to see each leaf on a tree and not just a green section?  And then I ask myself, what do I see? With my glasses I have perfect vision but have failed to see. Failed to see reality in its simplest form. Failed to take into consideration something so essential to our lives due to its lack of tangibility, our senses.

The bus ride felt forever as I sat there going deeper and deeper into thought. Corinne saw my teary eyes and we discussed it until we both fell silent into the dark pit of reflection again. My aim for the rest of the ride was to keep my tears hidden but the more I reflected the harder it became. Our trip to Africa has been so amazing because of the beauty surrounding us. Just the thought of not being able to see it is enough to sadden me but my mind continued on. I went back to what we’ve seen and my naivety became more and more apparent. We had spent time in the Chilanga school for the blind, seen the kids and spoke with the head master and yet it didn’t register that no one was wearing glasses. We spoke about using magnifying glasses and printing books in huge font, but no once did we mention glasses. We take sight for granted to such an extreme that we don’t notice it at all.

It makes me wonder, what else am I not seeing?

1 thought on “June 16th – What Do You See?

  1. Sophie Bass

    What an insightful post Naomi! I really really enjoyed reading the depth of reflection in this post. I remember having similar toughts about glasses and seeing when I was in Malawi…since both my parents are optometrists, the fact that very few people had glasses struck me quite hard. I even discussed this with my parents upon my return…I was kind of hoping they’d fly to Malawi as soon as I told them about the need for glasses, but of course, that didn’t happen…lol…if there’s an optometrist without borders organization, they should go to Malawi! Actually, there is an NGO specialized in optometry currently in Malawi…I just can’t think of the name at the moment. Anywho, I hope you enjoyed your trip, Naomi, and I wish you a smooth transition back to Canada! Also, I’m sure you ‘saw’ more than you gave yourself credit for! 😉

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