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An out of the ordinary evening

I am writing this article in order to share a rewarding experience that I had while volunteering for an event organized by Views International in Liège. The main goal was to create an unusual environment for the non-disabled, in order to raise awareness about persons with sight difficulties. I am talking about a very common activity organized in an original manner. To be more precise, I want to describe how a dinner in the dark could bring joy, laughter and friendship.

I was happy to take part in this event and to help our guests to feel safe - at least, I did my best to accomplish that. As I am blind, I had never realized how exciting this challenge would be to sighted people!

Before meeting the guests, however, I inspected the place carefully with the help of the organizers, to make sure that I did everything all right. My task was to take care of eight guests sitting around one table. There were also other tables of course, but they were taken care of by my volunteer colleagues.

I met everyone in the entrance hall and I explained them that I would guide them and that they didn’t need to worry about anything. On the way to our table, lights were turned off and a certain amount of insecurity could definitely be felt within the group. I walked very carefully, to make sure I reached my table and not someone else's, and I was relieved when we got there. While helping everyone to sit down, I described what there was around them. We started talking and they suddenly felt more comfortable around me. I brought drinks from the bar to those who wanted some, and served them food when the plates arrived on a trolley. The atmosphere got increasingly lively and everyone was enjoying someone's company. We played parlour games, made jokes and got to know each other only by the sound of our voices. I was delighted to see that everyone was having so much fun!

When the plates arrived on the trolley, I had to be careful with vegetarians, as there was a good chance to mess things up. Fortunately, I managed to give everyone the right plates.

The funniest moments were when they tried to guess what they were eating, or when someone lost a fork or a spoon. And they always found something to laugh about, even when they didn't lose anything: “Who is in favour of X, raise your hand!”; “Wink at me and I will know where to find you!”; “Say hello and wave at me!”. I laughed a lot at these remarks, and realized that they felt quite comfortable in the dark, and that they were coping much better than I thought they would.

We played rock-paper-scissors in a very unusual way. I was the impartial judge, and touched their hands to make sure they didn't cheat. However, serious matters were also discussed: for instance, they asked me about my everyday life: how can I study? Do I have a guide dog? Can I cook and walk on my own? What are my plans for the future? My answers made them realize that many, if not all blind-related difficulties can be overcome through willpower, hard work and technology.

After all the pleasant moments, and some slightly less pleasant ones (a couple of glasses broke, but I fortunately managed to clean everything quickly), everyone was sorry when the light was turned on again, during dessert. They said they had a lot of fun and swore they'd try it again, recommending it to all their friends. They also told me that they'd never met a blind person before, and that they'd finally realized that, thanks to technology, we can study as much as sighted people, and that our lives are much more similar to theirs than they imagine.

On a final note, I would like to add that we stayed at the restaurant until late, chatting about disability and what should be done to foster integration. We exchanged e-mail addresses and I really hope we stay friends.

To conclude, I would like to thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to meet wonderful people, to get new perspectives and to get involved in such a fruitful evening.

By Larisa Nechita, a Romanian student on Erasmus in Brussels