From Cape Town to California
I’ve been procrastinating on my writing like you cannot believe since finishing my challenge – I think I’ve finally found a groove.
In many ways the past three months have shaped this first post of 2019, of which more will be coming your way as I ground my learning into tangible insights to share.
Coming to San Francisco is like becoming a child; I see and experience everything for the first time.
Fresh city smells as winter rains falls; sweeping views transformed as nights veil descends and the new sounds of their famous cable cars bustling down Washington Street. An overload for the five senses but more importantly: another opportunity to learn.
I forgot how many day to day decisions have become second nature that I take for granted:
Knowing where the grocery stores are, how long it takes to walk there. What food they have! How its laid out, what it costs, and even just what the difference in taste between 2 products is.
The juxtaposition of city by morning and lit up with lights
Then there’s figuring out how the city fits together like a jigsaw; how different our words are for the same thing – traffic lights not robots. Cilantro not coriander. People not understanding my accent on the phone. Finding a barber to cut my hair decently (that serves beer believe it or not!)
Which gym to choose?? I think you get the idea
In primary school, a Greek boy arrived age 6 speaking no English. The teachers encouraged us to be patient and be teachers ourselves.
Thankfully, I have an amazingly supportive partner that’s helping me (together with her friends) to learn and settle in quicker than doing it alone. Now I’m the Greek boy
Learning from others
One thing I’ve been blessed with, is having the opportunity to sit with, speak to and learn from inspirational people.
Today’s post is dedicated to Joyce – our blind neighbour.
A Japanese American, Joyce has lived in San Francisco since the age of 22 in 1972. As an artistic woman, she expressed herself through dance and painting.
Her sight was always poor requiring her to wear glasses. As a ballerina she was unable to wear them during shows. She was never worried though because in practice, she learned to understand spatial awareness – not needing to see the edge of the stage, but rather operated in a finite piece of space.
As a painter, she constantly pushed herself to look at every day items from another perspective. To learn to see things differently. She loved the challenge and enjoyed it.
When she speaks to you about that, you feel her joy about that.
Fast forward to 1992 and she meets the love of her life. Wayne. Three years later she moves in with him – and hasn’t moved since.
Tragically, he died in 2011 and she was devastated. This is when I heard something I perhaps wouldn’t believe if it wasn’t first hand.
‘I lost the rest of my sight soon after that, and thankfully too. Having to learn the city all over again from a new perspective kept me away from the debilitating grief.’
Learning to ‘see’ again saved her life.
Watching and talking as we walk to dinner, she shares her knowledge of ‘seeing’ this way. Her spatial awareness is incredible – hitting a knobbled patch of pavement asked ‘is there an alley?’
There certainly was. She was spot on.
Sitting at the feet of Teachers
Okay – we were at a restaurant so it wasn’t exactly her feet, but it felt like I should be. Hearing her talk about catching the bus, buying groceries, going to her favourite restaurant and how cooking takes four hours were bringing learning a ‘new’ city into perspective.
Imagine going blind aged 61?
I don’t want to use the word terrified, but just closing my eyes trying to feed myself is a scary thought.
Not Joyce though, to escape her pain she threw herself into learning how to ‘see’ the world with this new experience.
She’d taught herself from an early age to be excited to learn new ways of experiencing things – and this was just another opportunity.
We were celebrating the Japanese tradition always done on 3rd of March (3) – Hinamatsuri or Girls Day. It’s interesting to note that Japanese do not celebrate Mothers or Fathers Day; they choose to celebrate what will come (the children) versus what has come (the parents)
She shared her knowledge about the fact Japan only opened its borders in 1853 – not by choice – but because an American Commodore demanded they open ports by sailing into it.
See from Others Perspectives.
Its not always what we do that’s harmful – but how we do it.
I learned that the hard way in my twenties; when I saw how I spoke to friends and family. How I spoke bordered on abuse.
Seeing Joyce in the streets perhaps you’d feel compelled to help, no? First thinking from our own perspective that it’s impossible to get around without someone helping.
Joyce gives some advice we can all learn from.
Ask – instead of assuming someone needs help ask first. In many cases its more difficult being led by someone you don’t know or trust compared to walking with your cane. If someone was really in trouble, they’d cry out for help.
Listen – when someone accepts help listen to how they need it. She prefers someone walking behind with hands on her shoulders and NOT in the middle of the sidewalk. When she walks alone, bright vest and cane, the curb provides her a straight edge compared with the middle. Like walking with your hand along a cliff face. As she says ‘close your eyes and tell me where straight is’ – a frequent command given to her.
Respect – one woman yelled at her to get off the streets because its dangerous. Some people tug at her to walk with them. As you can imagine this can be quite distressing and more importantly – breaks her concentration. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. If you are curious, set an intention to find out just what life is like for someone living with a disability (as most people call it) or their gift.
Change behaviour – Its one thing to change our own behaviour, but we can all do more to teach others how to stop feeling awkward when we meet or see someone with a disability. Just with most things in life – when in doubt speak up and I’ve never heard of someone being upset with someone that respectfully and genuinely wants to learn about another person’s circumstances.
Walking around San Francisco, I pay much more attention to sidewalk cracks, how fire hydrants, lamp posts, signage, trees and post boxes are Joyce’s daily obstacle course. I’m more aware of colours, textures – and the ease and speed with which my five-minute walk up a nine-storey hill takes to get to our neighbourhood grocery store – a store that makes their own honey on the roof I might add!
Joyce is one of those people that radiates; with her smile, her words – and her heart.
She reminded me why one of my daily things I express gratitude for – is my five senses, to experience this incredible planet we live on.
I think both are true