A spiritual odyssey into the world of the blind.
In 2005, Mahoney (Down the Nile Alone: In a Fisherman's Skiff, 2007, etc.) visited Braille Without Borders, Tibet's first school for the blind, founded by German educator Sabriye Tenberken, who herself is blind. It offered classes in “Braille, Chinese, English, computers, mathematics and navigational skills,” to blind young Tibetans, many of whom were illiterate and had been living in deplorable conditions in their impoverished villages, where they were a burden to their families and were shunned and bullied by their peers. At first, the author viewed the trip with trepidation, believing the typical stereotype that the blind were deprived of “their real enjoyment of life, their effectuality, and their potential.” Mahoney was astonished to see the students’ levels of joy and accomplishment. Being blind, many of them said, had given them the opportunity to leave the hardscrabble existence in their villages and attend this wonderful school where they were being educated and making new friends. For the author, the experience was a revelation. Four years later, she volunteered to teach English at a new school that Braille Without Borders was opening in India, attended by adult students from Africa and Latin America as well as Asia who wished to work on behalf of the blind in their own countries. The diversity of the students greatly enhanced the vibrancy of the community, and Mahoney was impressed by their intellectual and spiritual depths. She observed that they navigated the heavily trafficked streets of Kerala with ease. They gathered information about their environment from their other senses in order to recognize people and places, and they lived in a world “dominated by thought rather than appearance and visual details.” After all, she writes, “it’s the ability to reason and communicate that make us extraordinary.”
A beautiful meditation on human nature.