Friday, October 11, 2013

The Blind Leading the Blind

In Honduras, football is sacred. And I’m not referring to that silly, showy sport with all that padding and goalposts. I’m talking about nothing but a field, a couple nets, and a ball that you actually kick with your feet. When Honduras plays, the country’s on holiday. Men, women, and children wear their jerseys and when the games start, the streets empty as people pile into each other’s houses to watch.

I was buzzing with excitement too, though I couldn’t define a fault or a penalty if you asked me. I was like a kid asking how to say “goalie” and “field” and “announcer.” We sat on little folding chairs in a room with a dozen friends who pressed against the television, listening with all their might. When the announcer roared or we gasped in disbelief, sometimes they turned to us and asked, “What happened?” because none of them could see. We found ourselves guessing because we couldn’t understand the rapid stream of Spanish words and thus we watched, our parts together making a whole.

My friend Anna and I first visited the blind school with our class. It’s an organization dedicated to providing life skills and vocational training for adults, many of whom become blind later in life and must relearn how to do the things we take for granted – like ride the bus or dress themselves. They study music, massage, computers, braille, and carpentry. It’s one of the most highly-regarded schools in the area and people come from all over for the two-year program. And it’s about two blocks away from us.

We visited again, just the two of us, and began to meet the people there. They walk fearlessly between classroom and courtyard. The veterans hold the arms of newer students, and the bold grab the hands of the timid. Our new friends introduced us to newer friends, and we passed hours talking in Spanish that seemed to roll off our tongues easier there than anywhere else.

We were completely charmed. I tried not to be offended when a blind man, Nixon, professed undying love for Anna because “she is the most beautiful.” Another new friend was eager to perform for us a Spanish pop song that he’d translated into English. He sang it in an accent we couldn’t understand, but with such abandon and sincerity that we applauded uproariously at the end.

Our new friend Leo got out his guitar and played some of his favorite songs for us -- everything from traditional Honduran music to “Yesterday” by The Beatles. Almost everyone at the school is musical and we passed the guitar around to everyone who heard it and came over. We watched the blind climb trees to pick fruit, dance salsa together, and smile with the unbridled joy that comes with not knowing how to guard your facial expressions.

We left only when it became dark, and promised to return the next week for the big game, when true to our word, we leaned forward on the edge of our seats as volunteers passed us popcorn and coke in little plastic cups. When the ball rolled into the net, we all shouted together, and I didn’t know how full a room could be with sound. Our friends jumped up and ran into each other, hugging everyone who wandered in their path. We screamed and pounded our feet against the floor, for a moment, feeling like our hearts beat together with the hearts of all Honduras.

I’m not going to cheapen our experience with some play on words that has to do with what our friends see and what they don’t. All I know is that the blind lead the blind with more care and love than most of us could muster. And as we said goodbye again, laughing and shaking hands we were counting down in our heads how many days before we can visit again.

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