I’m going to talk about this topic from the point of view of a foreigner. If any blind or visually impaired Nigerian happens to stumble across this blog, comments would be greatly appreciated.
Before I went to Nigeria to record for the first time, I was apprehensive about a lot of things from whether this was a real deal to how I would be treated as a blind person. When I was in university, my parents used to live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and I didn’t like the attitude the locals had towards me there being blind. People would randomly come up to me in the street or in shops, pat me on the head and say “God bless you dear”. My experience with African immigrants who were a generation older than me wasn’t great either. And I was accused of being possessed by “the spirit of blindness”, being too scared to allow god to heal me and a few other ridiculous and hurtful things.
Surprisingly therefore, my expectations of how I’d be treated in Nigeria were pretty low. After all, I was going to a developing country where disabilities seemed to be caused by evil spirits.
But I was positively surprised. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t referred to as ‘the blind woman’. OI was ‘the white woman’, which isn’t much better. I prefer to be referred to as Linn or Lioness, but the truth is, strangers are always gonna refer to you by your appearance. For example the man with the long beard, the girl with the square glasses etc. so I am not going to complain about that.I do it myself. Being the white woman is somehow a break from being the blind woman. My blindness takes second place. And nobody has accused me yet of being possessed by evil spirits.
I’ve had a few negative incidents, but that was mainly with my first label where the CEO, who has little education and I suspect low IQ, sent in a press release where he referred to my blindness as an “imperfection” and asked me to write a song where I “encouraged the handicapped”. Can you blame me for dumping that label? LOL. Handicapped might have been ok to say in 1856, but in 2016 it’s pretty off.
But after I changed label, I’ve had none of that. In fact, most people who meet me don’t realize I’m blind, so imagine how puzzled I got when a girl at a video shoot asked me if my leg was ok. I was holding my stylist’s arm so she must have assumed I needed physical support. Those kinds of assumptions can be quite confusing at the time. I think everyone knows I can’t see, though that’s not the case, but actually they are indirect compliments. Blindness doesn’t always come up in interviews either. But when it has come up, I’ve only had positive experiences talking about it, because blindness related questions tend to be about my blog.
The real challenge for me when it comes to being blind in Nigeria has more to do with practical matters. Public transport systems and roads are not developed, so I can pretty much forget about getting around independently. And that’s why I couldn’t live there twelve months of the year. I’m a spoilt girl who is used to going out to get what I want when I want and not having that freedom is depressing. My team is more than willing to help me with anything I may need, something I’m grateful for, but it doesn’t quite make up for lack of freedom and flexibility. Being a white woman alone in Lagos comes with its own risks, but had I been able to drive, or get around independently by other means, I would have enjoyed more mobility and freedom which would have made daily life easier.
Being a blind foreigner in Nigeria is fun and exciting as long as I am busy working and have access to a gym or a pool. But for day to day spare time living, it is just too restrictive in the long run.