Visiting the grey space of taboos

shades of gray :)

Imagine you’re 10 years old and you’ve just got your first slippers from a social worker. Not because your family could not afford them, not because you cannot walk, but because you are blind.

My first reaction when I heard the story many years ago was, “wait, did I hear this right? What does blindness have to do with walking?” Yes, it turns out I did not mishear anything. It turns out that in many countries in the world, especially in villages, people who’re blind are hidden from the society’s view. They stay home, often tacked in bed, with no educational opportunities, with no outlet for social development.

The reasons for this state of affairs are complex. Partially, the parents of blind children are afraid for their safety. But partially, they’re afraid of being stigmatized by the community they live in.

When I was taking classes for my PhD, I wanted to describe this situation and started looking for English-language articles in so-called scientific literature. Can you image my disappointment and sadness when I did not find a single article on the topic? Because the studies would usually look at rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities, which means that the people or “subjects” of the study were already out and about in their community. Or the studies would focus on blind/low vision children who received a mainstream education. Again, these kids have already moved on on their path of growth.

What really bothers me is that there are topics that are super important, that affect people’s lives, and yet, they’re not widely discussed. They’re neither examined by academic institutions, nor are they the topics that the media clammer to pick up. They’re there, in the grey space between existence and non-acknowledgment. So I’m hoping to spread the word. Just because an issue is not talked about does not diminish or erase its existence, right? So let’s talk! πŸ™‚

Hubby and I were recently interviewed by EyesonSuccess about our experiences of teaching in Southeast Asia and India. Please listen to the podcast if you’d like to find out hear our impressions and adventures:




Karo Caran, the Rainbow Poetess, is a poet and a non/fiction writer. Her novel, "Breaking the silence: A story in paintings" focuses on the censorship of art and gay relationships in the postwar, communist Poland. Her poetry-based memoir, "Life in a Footnotes" will be published this summer.
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17 thoughts on “Visiting the grey space of taboos

  1. Some of these conditions – the ones people don’t talk about – are like the orphan diseases: diseases that are low incidence and so companies don’t want to put money into creating medicine. The story you talk about is very touching. I don’t think blindness in the US would have the connection to walking because there are more services (at least I hope not). The fact that you’ve taught in Southeast Asia and India tells me you have seen a much wider world than many of us. I am sure it expands your humanity as well as showing you some painful stories. We all have so many gray spaces of awareness, the lack of understanding. Sadly, I become casual about awareness – if I don’t know about something then I don’t have to be guilty for not helping, right? Thank you for a touching story and a reminder to look past the obvious.

    • Yes, the more you travel the more stories you collect, so it’s a double-edged sword. But in the end, I do think it’s better to know about something, even if it’s something really hard to fathom. Only by exposing it can our consciousness evolve.

  2. I immediately thought of Helen Keller and all the wonderful thoughts she left us with, like “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.” If her parents had been ashamed or fearful of their daughter’s condition, she would have had a terrible existence, and we would have missed the opportunity to see possibilities in every challenge.

    • You are so right, Susan. And I’m thinking that the situation is slowly changing precisely because there are role models in many of the societies. There are now students who’re blind and who attend universities, there are masseurs who make their own living, there are blind computer instructors. It just takes a while for the role models to get their stories out into the rural areas.

  3. It is so sad to think that in countries like this, that I consider to be spiritually evolved, they have to deal with so much judgment and shame. I guess that makes them just like all of us really – so much grey, so much hidden because of shame. I can’t figure out why being blind would cause shame but I guess the collective decides what is right and what isn’t. What a shame!

    • Well said, Laura, it is the collective that decides what is and what is not shameful. And I do like your point about the spiritually evolved societies–all of them, in the end are like us–we all have grey areas and then we all have things we can teach to others.

  4. Hey Karo, great post. My sister lived in Vietnam and Cambodia for over a decade, working as a missionary. The stories she has told me reflect exactly what you are saying here, and I was horrified. I asked her why it was like that, and she said, it’s because that’s just how it is. I think we live in a much more transparent society (I’m in Australia) but there are still many grey areas that need to have light shed on them. You are so right, change can only occur when things are brought to attention. J

    • I agree, Julie–our (American and Australian) societies are much more transparent, and I do believe that the other societies will evolve too, just as we did over the centuries. And then of course there are other things we could learn from other societies. But if we can speed up the evolution by exposing the taboos, that’s great. I feel very sorry for the people who are suffering right now and still await some type of help. πŸ™‚

  5. Wow, thanks for enlightening me to this issue, I sadly, had no idea. I think that we the people are now responsible to talk about the grey area since the media won’t. Thank goodness for the internet and beautiful souls like you who are ready to cultivate awareness!

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  7. I cannot fathom why someone who is blind would be told to stay in bed and now allowed to read (braille) or write or hear stories, feel the grass beneath their feet.. Good on you for exposing this taboo! <3

    • Yep, this was a surprise for me as well–the lack of basic services and the stigma attached to blindness. But what it taught me is never to assume what people believe in or how they view the world. You really just never know until you ask and ask and ask πŸ™‚

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