Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Story of My Masseuses

Visually impaired people in developing countries plead for a normal life

I love those classic readings that enriched my views as a child. One of my favorite books is about Helen Keller. It is not only about Helen Keller and how she went through her ordeal, but also about her parents and teachers as well. How they struggled to help little Helen overcame her anger toward her disability made me realize how important it is to have the best support to make one feels as a part of family and as a part of the community, and to have her success in the long run.

My relation with the blind was limited to Helen Keller’s story and some masseuses that I knew. I knew those blind masseuses since my childhood as my father used to call blind masseur to massage him. There was a time when I was enchanted by one masseur’s expertise on the piano. He studied how to play piano by himself, but he did play beautifully in my young ears.

Then I too become attached to the pleasure of massage. I did make massage as my monthly routine during my pregnancy. After the babies’ delivery I continued to use my masseuse help to keep me feel refreshed.

I like having their services as I do give them their right not a charity. We exchanged stories. Mostly my masseuse married to another blind masseur. And they’ve got normal kids. I was fascinated to hear how she managed to cook for her family, growing up the baby, etc. She was even still on duty during her late pregnancy, something that made me a bit ashamed because I complained a lot during my own pregnancy.

Once I’ve got to know a young girl. She was graduated from Senior High School and was really eager to continue studying English language in the university. She failed the entrance tests for several times but she did not want to quit trying. She needed to be a masseuse to save money for her study. She introduced me to the existence of the library for the blind. She opened my horizon that the blind need more than just to survive their financial need. They want to survive the world as other normal citizens.

I remember some last meetings I had with her. She was not happy because people did not understand her. She did not want to serve massaging men, especially as she committed herself to use the headscarf or jilbab in Bahasa Indonesia. I honored her view because it shows that she understand the real meaning of using the headscarf, she was not using it on fashion. She was not working by herself; her employer was blind couples who also serve massaging. Sometimes she could not refuse the call if there were nobody else to serve their costumer. Perhaps that was why she quit her job and moved away from my neighborhood, but she did say that she would love to have more time to seek for her study continuation.

I don’t know where she is now. But I’ll never forget her spirit to continue her study. I am sure that her monthly income from massaging people will be much higher than the amount she’ll receive as a lecturer here in Indonesia. She hung her dream high in the sky, a spirit that I have to learn from her!

Recently, another meeting with a blind who has a bachelor degree in law reminded me of my old masseuse. I then wrote an article about how we e-mailed each other as I was researching into her organization Yayasan Mitra Netra. That time I was preparing an article for the Indonesian local citizen journalism website. I knew that it would be a new finding for most of our Indonesian readers that a blind person can "read" and googling through the internet.

Then I came to the realization of how important it is to do something for those blind in the lower level of financial economy to help them grab their chances in education. The organization Yayasan Mitra Netra has been trying to ask writers to give their consent over the soft copy of their book to be printed in Braille. Some publishers were still against it although the writer has accepted to give their permission for free. Perhaps these publishers were afraid of the leak of information that could affect the sale of their books.

The case is not only on their right to have proper readings. A while ago I curiously asked another blind masseuse if she do have private insurance. I knew she could make a lot of money when she is healthy, but whenever she got sick she won’t get any income. She did not have any insurance neither did her blind husband. She was a bit hesitant that the insurance company would take her as a client. Some banks had previously refused to take her as their clients. How odd! I managed to give her name and problem to my friend who is working as an insurance agent. She admitted that they’ve got to go through a longer procedure to get the insurance policy issued, but now the head of the family has his insurance protection.

Some weeks ago I saw in the television the existence of blind police officers. According to an article I read in Yayasan Mitra Netra Website, Indonesia now has two PHDs. But in the grassroots there are more supporting actions should be made to help them come out from the darkness like Helen Keller. Mass media including the internet should become the enlightenment that various vocations can also belong to the blind, and they deserve normal life like all citizens.

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