As we celebrate White Cane Awareness Day, here is a story of Ntombi who we trained earlier this year.
It’s a hot summer day. The washing is hanging on a low fence – sheets, shirts, skirts and trousers. Four small boys are lying on the green grass, in the shade of an old tree where the tar road turns to dirt. Leo sits up. “Look,” he says, “someone in coming”.
The boys look up from their game. There is a woman walking slowly down the road wearing a bright blue hat and a long skirt. It’s not unusual for people to walk along the road – but there is something different about this woman.
“Haibo! That’s Mama Ntombi,” Jabu says.
“Can’t be, stupid. Ma Ntombi is blind,” says Mzamo, the oldest of the boys. “Blind people can’t walk by themselves.”
The woman comes closer. They recognise the colourful shirt she is wearing.
“It is Ma Ntombi,” they say in unison.
But where is her sister, or a neighbour? How can she be alone, they wonder? The boys can’t ever remember seeing Ma Ntombi on her own.
“Do you think she can see again?”, asks Alfred.
“No way. That’s not possible,” says Mzamo, “but I don’t understand. Why isn’t she getting lost or walking in circles?”
“Let’s sit really quietly as she comes past and find out,” suggests Leo.
The boys huddle closer, all eyes on Ma Ntombi as she approaches, a white cane in her right hand sweeping in front of her, left to right, right to left as she walks. They’re so close, they can smell the Lifebuoy soap Ma Ntombi likes to use.
“Hello, boys”, she says as she passes. She may be blind, but she heard their voices from up the road, and she knows that Leo, Mzamo, Alfred and Jabu live at the bottom of her street. She also knows that there is a cement drain with some broken paving in the road just before their house. It is one of the landmarks she uses to find her way. “You’ve gone very quiet. Surprised to see me?”
“Morning Ma” the boys say, standing up to watch her, mouths wide open, eyes big.
“The only thing that is new about Ma Ntombi”, says Jabu after they watch her go, “is that white stick”. “I think it must be a seeing stick.”
Not even Mzamo disagrees. “Yes”, he says. “A seeing stick.”