Dinning in the Dark – How I met the Prime Minister of Bhutan!

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While the concept of dinning in the dark is even heard of in Bhutan, however, in western countries,  the trend to experience eating in pitch darkness has become a culinary adventure of sorts, thereby, encouraging restaurant owners to device ingenious ways of attracting customers. The customers dine in pitch darkness in such restaurants. They can neither see the food they are eating nor the people they are sitting with. The blind dining experience allows people with full vision to relate to and empathize with people who have impaired vision who normally would sit in any restaurant without any qualm or prejudice.

Apart from providing an eye-opening experience for all such participants, such experiences have gone a long way in helping the visually impaired community in more ways than one. Many of the restaurant owners who run such restaurants employ visually impaired people as their staff, right from cooking meals to serving to dish washing. Needless for me to point out here, such ingenious schemes or strategies help employment of all visually impaired or people with disabilities. Further, these special restaurants donate a certain percentage of their profits to the visually impaired community.

Earlier this week, an event of dinning in the dark was organized at Terma Lingka by three enthusiastic organizers. It was of course a pilot program and intended to make diners or participants experience the life of those who are visually  impaired and to kick start this noble program to raise money to benefit the visually impaired people in country. However, this time around, the donation collected was given to Mensueling Blind School.

Immediately upon the arrival of the invited diner, right at the entrance, we were blindfolded and escorted to the dining table by the staff. We were briefed about the courses of the meals and taught some table etiquettes. I was seated next to a lady. After a minute or so the escort draws our attention and introduce me to the rest of the tablemates.

Staffs briefing on use of Cutleries

Our table comprised of a volunteer health worker from California who turned out to be a lovely & a very inquisitive woman, an artist from VAST and a lady who works for a media company. Since we were all blinded folded and with less distraction without our sights, we were even more curious and started asking every question under the sun to each other and the beauty of it all was that we were not judgmental nor prejudiced.

Dinner Time

In between, we were served with appetizer, starter and the main course.The eating part was a real struggle. We could neither see the food nor locate the cutleries like forks and spoons. Therefore, some of us at least have had the presence of mind to use our hands instead of struggling with nerve-wracking cutleries and before the meals got cold and unpalatable.

Later, we found out that the main strategy behind this awakening experience was to allow people with full vision to relate to and empathize with people with lost vision. These are some of the things what blind people have to contend with on a daily basis which people with full vision take it for granted. As hungry as we were after all our nerve-wracking experience, we somehow managed to binge on the main course.

UNFORGETABLE NIGHT

Laila and I

Just as dessert was about to be served, a new person joined our table. Of course I could sense that he choose to sit somewhere near me. In low tone the man greets us , ‘hi’ , we all responded and the man took order for dessert, the option was to choose between ice cream and fruits, he choose fruits. I got very curious about the newcomer sitting right next to me, so I turned towards him and said hello and shook hands with him, he quietly responded likewise. Laila, the volunteer from Carlifonia broke the ice, “hi sir, where do you work?” The man softly responds, “I am a surgeon”. Another friend interjects, “oh, so you are a doctor?” The repeats, “no, I am a surgeon”. Then I asked him, “what’s your name, surgeon?  The man responds, “Lotey” and momentarily, my brain froze but somewhere a bell kept ringing… Then I blurted out, “you mean you are surgeon Lotey Tshering, THE PRIME MINISTER OF BHUTAN? He said “yes”.

My jaw dropped!!! Since the expatriate lady sitting right next to me had virtually no clue of the mystery man sitting at our table, I turned towards her and exulted, “OMG, HE IS NONE OTHER THAN THE PRIME MINISTER OF BHUTAN”, at which, she totally freaked out. As shocked as I was and probably more in awe and wonderment, I tried to remain as silent and as courteous as I could for the remainder of the conversation. The talk continued and it was while dining in the dark that I got to interact with the Prime Minister of Bhutan for the very first time. While listening to the conversations, it dawned to me that our Prime Minister is a soft-spoken and a sensitive kind of person who seemed very keen to know and learn about all of us and about this evening’s experience.

Prime Minister escorted to dining hall

After we all came to know that the latest newcomer to our table was indeed the Dr. Lotey Tshering, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, we were all interested to know from him first hand as how the experience about dining blindfolded had meant to him? He simply summed it up as being “very helpless and most frustrating.” I guess, the Prime Minister spoke for all of us on the table. We were dinning for 2-3 frustrating hours (which normally wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes) but with our eyes blindfolded, we felt so frustrated and miserable not being able to find our glass of water, fork and spoon and for that matter some of us even failed to recognize or taste what was actually going through our mouth.

Prime Minister with two bloggers

Now, as I reflect on that evening’s experience and how discomforting and frustrating things turned out to be for us even to dine once with blind folds, how do the blind people manage to pull on with their lives on a daily basis? And coming to think of it, how many of us really care about the plight of all those blind people out there? Tell me how many of us have even spared a thought for them or even guided a blind man across a busy street, let alone contribute or donate something towards their plight or cause?  

Dear friends, if you have any empathy at all towards those who are visually impaired or others suffering from various other disabilities that people suffer from, the least we can offer is our empathy. Even just by being aware of all the plights and challenges of blindness would mean a lot, not to mention, how we can contribute meaningfully to ensuring that everyone has access to facilities, services and that there is a support system in place within the community and understanding how to interact and communicate with all those people with disabilities.

After we were all done with dinner, Kinley, one of the event organizers asked us to remove our blindfolds and the sighs of relief that reverberated through the hall, I’ll never ever forget. I reflected at least we had the choice to remove the blindfolds in order for us to enjoy the gift of sight unlike those who are visually impaired permanently. You simply can’t imagine how happy we were to remove our blind folds and to be able to see once again!

Dining in the dark Bhutan

The dinner in the dark was worth 100 dinners and the Prime Minster’s very presence made all the difference and added value to the event in the sense that he being at the helm of affairs would definitely give a helping hand to the plights of those who need help the most. After all, we tout ourselves as a country of Gross National Happiness and so we should ensure that nobody is left behind, especially those people who have disabilities and special needs.

The Organizers; Jean, Kinley & Kinga

If you all would like to donate in either in cash or in-kind to the community, you may contact the organizers of this event on facebook @ dininginthedarkbhutan

4 COMMENTS

  1. Salute to the organisers! Your narration about dinning in the dark spreads such a meaningful message to the world and how hard to be not being able to see what other normal can see.
    Another Interesting part is how you met our PM blindly! It’s just sound incredible idea to organise such a unique program.

  2. Hi,
    I liked the feelings you developed towards visually impaired people after blindfolded dinner at resort. I very well know how one get satisfied after befriending a visually impaired person. While I was in Shercol, I got the chance to help kinzang chophel, who became blind at the age of 8 years. Being with them is totally a different experience.

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