By Franklin Kolma
After sixteen years of waking up to a blurry world, seeing only shades of colour, unable to tell friend from foe, Abu of the Bunigi village in the Bamu river area put on glasses. For the first time, Abu saw his surroundings in all their beauty; line for line and shade for shade.
Abu was an older man than the other patients in the clinic and a degree frailer; he had an air of seniority among the group of villagers, who after being registered were now sitting patiently awaiting their eye tests.
Unlike the other villagers who greeted the optometry team with smiles and handshakes, Abu presented himself as an unapproachable man. He wore an unrelenting blank face, empty of emotion.
As the day grew longer and the sun smaller, clinic eye tester, Yaneena, eventually had the seemingly ill-fated task of testing the this sour-faced Abu. Abu stepped up like all before him with one eye covered and was asked to identify different shapes of varying sizes as they were pointed out. Unlike his fellow optically challenged kinsmen who were able to point out a shape or two before hitting a blind spot, Abu asked where the chart was, even though he was looking straight at it.
Our team leader Janine looked at the team and shrugged her shoulders, a gesture that at the time could have meant one of many things, the most obvious being that she was at a loss on what to do. I doubted this, so I settled on the notion that it meant, ‘Hey, we found someone who really needs our help.’
After a grueling ten minutes of trying to figure out what to do, Janine sent the old cod to me at the I-See station, which is the revolutionary yet very simple substitute for an optometrist.
My job was simple because all I did was try different power optical lenses that were niftily attached to a rectangular frame. It allowed for the simple moving up or down on a person’s face to find which lenses improved sight the most.
I started on the weaker lenses and worked my way to the top, asking him to nod if-and-when he could make out the figures on the I-See chart. We went through the first lot of lenses without the much anticipated nod. As I picked up the final frame of lenses, I was pretty sure even this lot would not work.
The first two of the final lenses did not work for Abu, as I expected. However, the next and second last lens sparked a rather peculiar moment. Abu squinted and wet his bottom lip with his tongue in the way people usually do when they’ve stumbled upon an interesting find. As I adjusted the +3.00 lens on his face, he slowly lifted one arm and pointed at the chart. A little confused, I asked him if he could see what he was pointing at and nothing could have prepared me for his response.
Abu hurled both arms in the air and, with a smile that could rival Denzel, yelled “Mi lookim pepa ya, na mi lookim pes blo yu tu,” which is tok pisin (PNG widely used language) for “I see the paper! And I can even see your face.”
The now overjoyed old man began looking at the trees and the grass, telling a fast gathering crowd how every little strand and fiber of the leaves were beautiful and, for the first time, visible to him.
Moved beyond compare, I looked in the box for a medium-sized pair of the obviously working lens and handed him a pair. He put them on right away. As soon as he looked through his new found pair of eyes, tears streamed down his rough cheeks.
I immediately began an inner battle to keep myself from crying and, thankfully, won.
I had never experienced that kind of joy before, like seeing a baby walk for the first time. Abu changed from being a quiet and partially blind old man, to the most lively and joyous of the village.
I had lived a selfish life of materialistic appetites, focusing on what I could get, indulging in shallow pursuits to happiness before embarking on my trip with the YWAM Ship to the Western Province. Now, I have found true happiness.
If there is one thing I took away from my brief meet with this peculiar old man of Bamio village, it was that God lives in us all and that true happiness is found in the happiness of others.