I’m not saying I have had the most exciting life, or that my life has been filled with a constant stream of heart stop- awesome experiences. But I have done some pretty cool things. On Saturday, however, I did something that was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It was probably one of the most unforgettable, emotionally moving, and altogether most incredible experiences I’ve ever had.
I was blind and for an hour and a half, I walked around the bustling city of Istanbul.
I admit I was scared long before losing my eyesight. I don’t like being in the dark at the best of times, and I knew it was something that I wouldn’t be completely comfortable with. As the process began, and it started to get darker and darker, I felt myself begin to panic. I reached in front of me, feeling the shirt of my husband who was ahead of me. I was reassured that I wasn’t alone. He told me I could hold on to him the whole time if I wanted, but I said no. I could do it.
We were a group of nine people, who had paid 25 TL each to participate in an experience called Dialogue in the Dark. For an hour and a half, we would walk through simulations of our city, with a white cane to help us, and the calming voice of our guide, a local blind man named İlhan. An assistant led us through a maze, to reach the opening where we were to meet our guide, and then she left us in complete darkness.
I thought it would be best to stay at the end of the line because I have a tendency to get lost when I can see, and I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone following me the wrong way. I quickly realized it was unnecessary. As we walked, listening to İlhan talk to us and ask us questions about ourselves, I became very relaxed. A couple of times I did get lost (so to speak) but before I knew it, there was İlhan, with his hand on my arm, “Sarah, let’s go.” How he found me every time, when I didn’t even realize I wasn’t with the group was beyond me. I imagined that he wasn’t really blind, and was wearing some sort of eyewear that enabled him to see in the dark. But of course that wasn’t the case.
İlhan has been blind since birth. He quickly learned a lot about our group based on our voices and everything we said. He knew who the tallest person was, he knew who the chatty guy was (my husband), he knew who he would have to keep an eye out for (pardon the pun) because they tended to wander off (me). He did everything with a white cane, even though I didn’t hear it or trip on it once.
As he led us around he pointed out things for us to feel and try to figure out what they were. I’m not going to give away anything, but just for the record, I guessed most of them correctly.
There were constant sounds around us; water, wind, birds, cars, busses, people. There were smells too: perfumes, seaweed, food, coffee, exhaust, trees, and dirt. Our senses were overwhelmed. Sometimes the wind picked up, other times it died down. We felt it all, and started to see without our eyes.
It was scary. Istanbul is not a city for the blind. Between street curbs that suddenly end, the few traffic lights that “ask” you to wait, and “tell” you when to go, and the millions of people who just don’t see you. I felt safe with İlhan leading us, but I don’t know how safe I would feel without him. One of the people in our group asked if blind people ever just stay inside because it is too overwhelming outside. But İlhan said it wasn’t the case.
At the beginning İlhan had told us we were very brave to try this, because he wouldn’t want to experience ten minutes with sight. I agreed. But when we finished, I had a completely different outlook. I value my eyesight, I appreciate everything I can see, and know I am lucky to have healthy, working eyes. But a part of me missed the feeling of seeing without my eyes. I was bothered by all the ugliness I saw afterwards, how important looks are to everyone, how we judge before even speaking with someone. While blind, I was in a group with strangers. All I knew about İlhan was that he was slightly shorter than me, and was wearing a leather jacket. But I also knew he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
Now, when I am out walking, I feel like I see the world differently. I am not just seeing with my eyes, I’m seeing with all my senses. It’s incredible.
This experience has not just changed my life, but it has changed how I see the blind. If only everyone could share this experience, I think the world would be a much more beautiful place.
*The full price for the tickets is 25TL, there is a discounted price, but knowing what you come away with, the experience is worth much more. Also children as young as nine can participate.
Please share this article with your friends