This is a reflection on the idea, undertaking and follow through of bringing a motivational event to campus. I will also highlight the impact that The Blind Cafe had on the students and faculty that came. I warmly welcome any feedback or questions on the event or process of delivering an event that you are passionate about to your university.
It all began when I was invited to attend The Blind Cafe in San Francisco. It was an evening full of eating, singing, dancing, listening, fumbling and caring; I loved every moment of it. I study spirituality and this was 3 hours of unadulterated access to my heart. The darkness was encompassing, in the most pleasant way I had ever experienced. It was as if the darkness was enveloping my body and cocooning me to a place as safe as the womb. I felt the joy in my heart leaping, even though I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I had to share this experience and thought of the students that I teach and how this would be an excellent opportunity to incorporate it in my classroom.
I reached out to the producer Rosh after checking the website for the email address. I questioned whether this had been done in schools before as I believed it would be great to bring it to schools or somehow include in a unit plan. He replied and said that it hasn’t, then I threw around a few ideas and he gave me a few contacts. We kept in contact, he knew I was studying at university and asked me whether I would think The Blind Cafe would be a viable option at the university – I thought about it for a while and my answer was yes. Low and behold after this discussion a colleague of mine (Michelle Salmiery) at Santa Clara University was looking for ideas and events for the dormitory she directs. I told her of The Blind Cafe, and from here we delved into the unchartered waters of bringing an event to our university.
We set up a meeting with Rosh and he came to SCU to check out the space and to discuss food, cost, needs etc. After then Michelle and I went to many, many meetings. We had meetings to discuss food, meetings to discuss costs, meetings to discuss venues, meetings to discuss safety needs the list goes on.. After these initial meetings we invited key people to join us to partake in The Blind Cafe in San Francisco before committing to food or money. The people that attended loved it! They could see the huge benefit that it could bring to the school community. From then we had even more meetings to confirm food, money and venue space. In between all of this we needed to promote, find a place to sell tickets and ask people to help with set up.
Finally the weekend arrived (December 5th & 6th 2014) and The Blind Cafe team came to set up the room. The University organised for people to coordinate the setting up of the tables/chairs and food. Both Michelle and I were on hand for any last minute needs or to direct the teams of people helping.
Before long we had a stream of people milling around the canapés table prior to the show. Students and faculty members alike mingled and spoke of their excitement and nervousness of sitting in the pitch black for 3 hours. Then one by one the blind wait staff led the participants in table by table. There were many surprised ‘ohhhhs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ when walking into the pitch black. After everyone was seated the chef made an announcement about the food that was in front of them. NB. I was told that this was the best food ever served at a blind cafe event…. The food itself has a whole different flavour in the dark. You really have to use your sense of taste and smell to distinguish what you are eating. If you’re a foodie this is so much more exciting then eating in the light!
After a few moments of trying to eating our food with no light, and no knife and fork, the blind wait staff asked for our attention. They offered up a Q & A session, many people asked interesting questions like ‘do you dream in color’, ‘have you always been blind’ etc. This is probably one of the most influential experiences in the blind cafe. You can ask a question in front of a room of 100 people with no one knowing who you are (unless you are me and have an Australian accent…). The amazing this is that in the dark there is no judgement on weight, race, sex or age. We can only be judged on what we say, and this is a beautiful experience.
Finally the show ends with a concert by The Constellation Prize and Rosh and the Blind Cafe Orchestra. We are invited to imagine what it was like when we were younger. Rosh encourages us to visualize when we bought our first CD or record, and laid on the floor and just listened to the music. After the music stops, and the anticipation of the creation of this beautiful community in the complete dark starts to culminate, Rosh slowly lights a candle, the glow from the candle starts to build as each of the participants (now community members!) start to see for the first time in 3 hours or so.
People look around in amazement as they start to slowly exit the cafe, all talking excitedly to each other and responding to this feeling that they have never felt before.
Here are some of the few social media shout outs for The Blind Cafe at Santa Clara University: