"One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Germany on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878." Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad


Blind Leading the Blind

The first day we rode the bus in Marburg I was surprised to see a blind man on the bus with us. I was fascinated by how expertly he got on the bus, found a seat, and knew when to get off. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. The next day I once again found a blind person—this time a woman—on the same bus. The following day I was walking down the street in the center of town and passed two blind men talking to each other about what flavor of ice cream to buy. Whoa! How crazy is that? Blind people are everywhere here! Since that first week I have since learned that there is a blind community living here in Marburg. (And here I was beginning to believe it was something in the water.)

I have never personally known a blind person, and have only encountered a handful in my lifetime, so perhaps it is my lack of experience with the blind community that causes me to be so interested in, and even slightly scared of, them. I say “scared” because I find myself afraid that, when passing them in the street, I might throw them off track by getting in their way or that I might accidentally send out the wrong ‘sound signals’ and confuse them. I know, I’m crazy like that.

Well it just so happened that my first successful German conversation took place with a blind woman at the bus stop last week. I was waiting at the bus stop (I seem to do a lot of that) and rocking Penelope’s stroller back and forth so that she would stay asleep. A young blind woman walked up to the bus stop, sat down on the bench, and placed her walking stick between her knees. We waited. And we waited. In silence.

Then, a large truck drove up and came to a halt in front of us as a minor traffic jam had just built up. The woman quickly stood up at the first sound of the vehicle and then turned to me and said (in German!), “Is that the bus?”

Such a simple question, but for a non-German speaker, any utterance is difficult to comprehend. Two thoughts ran through my head: “Wow! I think I understood what she just said!”(Don’t be too impressed. They’re pretty much all English cognates.) And, “If I’m wrong, then I will be personally responsible for any harm that comes to this blind person.”

Well, I went with my instincts and replied “Nein.” Then I hoped she wouldn’t ask me something else. She did. Two minutes later an actual bus pulled up, and she asked me something to the effect of “What number bus is that?” Ummm…still working on how to count to ten. Thankfully, a real German girl had joined us at the bus stop, and she quickly responded “383.” So the blind woman got on the bus. And I let out a sigh of relief.

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