Tuesday, April 05, 2011

It's a Smaller World

I first met her by telephone. Bob and I were sitting with our distributor's team at dinner in Malaysia wondering what to do with our free-day tomorrow when someone pulled out a phone, dialed a number and handed it to me. Quizzically, I took it. "Hello, this is Jane?" "Hello, Jane, this is Nicole. I hear you'd like some suggestions about what to do in Kuala Lumpur." "Oh! That would be very nice, thank you." What followed was a comprehensive list of suggestions that even The Lonely Planet would have envied. Even more surprising, Nicole seemed to anticipate exactly what might appeal to me, steering me to places that even our distributor hadn't heard of. But what really caught my attention was her flawless English - which sounded exactly like my niece, Daisy, who lives in England. Exactly like her! I handed back the phone with my mouth open. A day later, I met Nicole at our planned event. This smart, funny, engaging young woman was in charge of IT. She walked towards me with a fabulous grin holding on to the arm of a companion to help her negotiate the room. She had been blind from birth. She set up my PowerPoint and told me to let her know if I needed anything. I didn't. It all went very smoothly until I stamped my foot on stage to emphasize a point and everything that was electrical went blank. Back-stage crew to the rescue! But, nothing, just black screens. I punted and panted and feigned light banter. Still, not a flicker. Relieved, I saw Nicole making her way to the front, and in seconds, I was back in business. After the event she waited patiently for the conversations and photographs to end and then we had time to chat. She had been an exchange student in England, not far from where Daisy lives, which accounted for the similarities in speech. She longed for her independent days there. In Malaysia, a Muslim country, she isn't allowed a seeing-eye dog. Dogs, thought to be unclean, are not allowed in public places. Neither is she allowed an ATM or credit card, as it is assumed she'll lose them. Her smile faded when she said, "I find it rather debasing." Later, she taught me a Malaysian game played with beads that got quite competitive. I intend to win next time. She showed me the most high-tech machine I've seen yet. Sent to her from her host-family in England, it allows her to access the Internet in Braille. She reads and answers her own e-mails. "I'm a real geek," she confessed. As we were saying goodbye, she asked me one last question, "How are Cookie and Ceilidh?" What?! "I read about them on your blog. I'm sorry about your boots." That was the moment I stopped complaining about the intrusiveness of the Internet and was silent all the way home.