By Demola Adeleke
As a blind individual, you either take risk, or die being a puppet. I became blind in 2009, but started my own risk taking in late 2012 when I was enrolled to a boarding school at Ogbomoso, Oyo State, South-Western part of Nigeria.
Ogbomoso to Ibadan, where my house is, is almost a 3-hour drive; and at the end of every term, my dad would drive down from Ibadan to come fetch me at school, then drive back to Ibadan, on the same day, totaling his driving engagement to about 5 hours or more. My younger sibling, who was also at a boarding school in a town faraway from Ibadan, didn’t need to put dad through that stress, as she would simply go to the park, board a bus and head home independently. Obviously, my own situation was different because I cannot see, and I needed to be transported like a bag of beans, from place to place.
As a blind individual, you either take risk, or die being a puppet
I knew my parents’ intentions were good. I understood that they were only protecting me from being run over by Dangote truck, and didn’t want to come pack my scattered brains across the asphalt, with a polythene bag; but I wasn’t going to allow them sacrifice their supposedly productive life on protecting me from dying, so I decided to take my first risk as a blind person.
At the end of the session in July 2012, all the students were told to vacate the hostel. One by one, students began to travel home. Some- themselves, others- with their parents or guardians. In a situation like that, all I needed to do was call my dad, and he would rush down to Ogbomoso, but I was going to save him the stress, fuel and risk- by travelling alone.
I sought help to the school gate, took a bike to the park, boarded a bus, and found myself in Ibadan in the next 3 hours. I alighted, pleaded with people around to help me to my next bus park, boarded the bus, and was already at the nearest junction to my house. I again called out for help, targeting pedestrians at close proximity, explaining that I am blind and needed to be guided down to where the bikes were, but I seemed to have exhausted my luck for the day. Every gesture I made became repellant to passers-by, and they all would walk away without looking at me. I felt terrible.
I imagined onlookers perceiving me as a street beggar whose fine clothes were gifts from a philanthropic draper. I was about regretting my decision to travel alone when someone approached me and helped me down to the bike park. I entered the house and all my folks were wiping their face with the palm of their hands to confirm they weren’t staring at my ghost.
That was my very first time. My first time of depending on the kindheartedness and empathy of commuters, passers-by, hawkers, public officials, drivers, okada riders, passengers, agberos (bus conductors), shop owners, strangers and every other person I come across on my way, to get to my final destination, unhurt. Before leaving Ogbomoso that day, I remembered not having functioning eyeballs to find my way, but I was confident that all the aforementioned would be my eyes on the road. I’m of the opinion that with these people on my way, I can travel the country over, from West to North, then East to South. They have the sight I lack, and they will be generous with it to lead me to where I’m heading.
So brethren, that was how I relieved my parents of the stress of driving me around, when they are supposed to be attending to more important matters. However, because of the bustling and haphazard conduct of everyday activities in Ibadan city, my parents, mum especially, would have her blood pressure raised anytime she noticed I was preparing to visit a friend within the Ibadan axis. Assuring her that the kind people on my way wouldn’t watch me run into a moving vehicle would do little to convince her, so she would ask if my dad could take me instead. Meanwhile, I was already 20 years!
Hello reader, refute my claim if I’m wrong. You see, we all take risk every day, both the disabled and the able-bodied. A parent driving his disabled child around doesn’t necessarily guarantee the protection of such disabled child, it can also be a regrettable adventure, as a misfortune destined solely for the disabled child can also be extended to the parent.
If I, as a blind child, am at the brink of getting hit by a truck, and my father is right beside me as the protective father he is; two things are prone to happen at that moment. It’s either my father quickly draws me back to avert the disaster, or he tries to save me and gets caught in the act, thus leading to the death of both of us. He might even carry me in his car, driving me to my destination as he wants me safe, but unfortunately crashing his car and not just dying alone, but taking me with him. If I hear pim, You see, life is mad like that.
Wanting to teach my mum how to worry less about my safety, I decided to study in Enugu State in the South-Eastern party of Nigeria, where she wouldn’t have easy access to me. She heard the news of my admission to University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) and was scared out of her wits. If only she had her way, she would have locked me up in the house and prevented me from travelling too far, all in the name of acquiring higher education. My dad also showed some concerns, but had no choice than to allow me live my life as I wanted. But everyone couldn’t stop worrying; my siblings, buddies and ex girlfriend. I told them I would be fine. I reminded them that if I can die in a road accident between Ibadan and Enugu, then I can equally die in between tripping from my house to University of Ibadan. They all seemed to see reasons with me and calmed down a little.
Of course, my confidence of having eyes on the road was part of my motivation, and the eyes owners didn’t disappoint me on my first journey to Enugu. Everyone wanted to help. The manager of Ifesinachi Mass Transit in Ibadan made me his friend, and would secure a comfortable seat for me inside the bus. He would also tell the driver to make sure he watched out for me throughout the journey, and also got me a cab on our arrival at Nsukka. Fellow passengers, on noticing my blindness, would also offer their assistance everytime the bus had a stop over. I would be eating and gisting with one of the passengers at a restaurant, but my mum was at home panicking and praying I didn’t die.
Well well well, some helpers can be lazy to think though. Like on one of my journeys; as usual, our bus had a stop over and everyone alighted from the vehicle. My bladder was full, but because I can’t seem to urinate at an open place, as my inability to see my surroundings makes me feel like the whole world is watching me, I asked one of the passengers to help me locate a restroom. A lady, presumably in her twenties, immediately volunteered to help me, as she was also pressed and needed to ease herself. Walking around, we couldn’t find any modern toilet, so we both settled for a pit latrine attached to one of the old houses around.
She helped me into the latrine cabin and oriented me on where the hole was. Now to the unreasonable part. Right there, in front of her, she asked me to remove my trouser and start. Oh sorry, I didn’t tell you this. Because I wasn’t ready to explain to anyone why I’m unable to urinate in an open space like the roadside, I had told the passenger beside me that I wanted to defecate, as that would necessitate a private toilet. Back to the story; so she asked me to remove my bottoms and start blasting right in her presence.
Very strange? No, very dehumanizing. Till today, I still can’t place her real intentions for that action. Perhaps she was being protective and didn’t want me dropping into the hole, or she simply wanted to see whether what I lacked in sight, I made up down there. Or she probably just wanted a quickie with the fine-looking blind imbecile.
But apart from occasional embarrassing moments like the above cited, I usually don’t feel like a blind person whenever I’m travelling. In fact, with everyone on my way allotting a quarter of their eyes to look out for me, I seem to have a broader and wider eye-sight than all of you. Thank you!
I told mama I had eyes everywhere, but she wouldn’t believe me. Although there were times when I wouldn’t be so lucky. I might reach out to a dozen of persons without getting help. But remembering that out of the ten pedestrians who will pass me by, there will be at least two of them who are compassionate and will respond to my call for assistance, gives solace to my heart. So, instead of cursing under my breath and imagining how independent I would have been if I didn’t lose my sight, I will simply wait for you, my eyes, to come around.
So, that was how I shuttled between Ibadan and Enugu for four good years safely, when in fact, I couldn’t see the colour of the buses I boarded. Mama, you fine now?
When I was travelling to London for the first time for a programme; the organizers, in their attempt to make sure I would be safe, decided to have someone travel with me. I welcomed it. You know, I was going to an entirely different country where I am a Coke, and they are Fantas. It was going to be my first time there, and I wouldn’t want to make a mess of myself by wrongly assuming I can seek help from pedestrians, just like I do here in Nigeria.
My time in the UK was awesome. The white were nice and friendly to everyone. But because I had my sister with me who served as my eyes, and Fabio who was assigned to be my personal guide, I couldn’t really ascertain the attitudes of the Brits to disabled persons, as there was no need for me to seek the assistance of random passers-by. Fortunately for me, I had another chance to visit the United Kingdom for another programme. And when the organizers asked if I could travel by myself, I answered in the affirmative.
Yeah! It was my chance to confirm what I had heard about European countries to be disability friendly. Starting from the airport, care wan kill me. The cabin crew, all white, seemed to give more attention to me than the first class passengers. They kept offering me everything, red wine, yellow wine, breast mi… Ah. Sorry, sorry. What I was trying to say is that they were just so keen on making me comfortable. Always coming around to ask if I needed to use the restroom. Guess who was visiting the toilet every minute? My mum. She was so worried that I was travelling to another country alone.
And when I landed in London, na dem dey rush me. Before I even opened my mouth to ask for help, they were already at it. Very sensitive and responsive to my perceived needs. In Sussex, I was allotted a comfortable room, but with a telephone with the push button. It was a device almost impossible for a contemporary blind guy like me to use, so it raised some concerns in the white lady coordinating the programme. I noticed her worries and told her not to bother, assuring her that I had my mobile phone and the room service number, so I would do just fine without the telephone. But she wouldn’t listen to me; she rushed downstairs, got an operator to my room and had another accessible telephone fixed in there. According to her, she wouldn’t want a situation when I needed help and my mobile phone lacked the signals to make a call. Very considerate set of beings.
And just so you know, I travelled alone twice within the UK. The first was from 5pm to 10pm; and the second, from 9:30pm to 1:20am. I did it alone. The drivers, passengers, roadside smokers and passers-by, just like in Nigeria, also served as my eyes all through the journey. I never remembered being blind, as every assistance rendered by people anytime I’m out, gives me a sense of independence. This is because I see myself travelling alone without someone following me around as a protector.
Looking at my experiences so far since the very first time I attempted taking the risk of journeying alone; it will be safe to say; “I am a blind traveler, but one who reaches his destination safely with the eyes of people like you”.
So, thank you for being my eyes through which I see the road. Thank you.