Two days ago, I walked down Cold Spring Lane to Roland Park Vision for my first visit to the eye doctor in thirteen years. The appointment went as expected, until the doctor, coming at me with eyedropper in hand, asked, “You don’t have anything important to do today, do you?” Taken by surprise, I stammered out “Not really, no…” “Good, it should only last four to six hours.”
Most people who wear glasses or contacts are accustomed to having their eyes dilated. I had never experienced anything like it. Within a minute, my vision became completely blurred. I was told to sit in a waiting chair while some forms were filled out. To pass the time, I automatically pulled out the book I had brought along, only to realize that I couldn’t make out a single word. I continued to stare at the page in shock, and at this moment I realized that from the time I first learned how to read, I had never been physically incapable of doing so. Reading was always simply a matter of looking at the page. For the first time I could remember, I was handicapped.
Of course, I understand that this is a routine procedure, and more importantly only a temporary inconvenience. But it allowed me, for a few hours, to literally see the world through a different lens. One of the most striking things about this experience was the amount I had to rely on others. For example, when the receptionist handed me an itemized receipt and asked me to please sign here, I could only make out the line I was supposed to sign on. I couldn’t read any of the numbers, and I was too embarrassed to ask the receptionist to read them for me. So I decided I would wait until I got home and could ask a close friend to read it for me, and blindly signed the receipt.
This situation reminded me of the passage from Tales of the Tikongs in which the Tikongs were given an old Japanese fishing vessel that was capable of holding 100 tons of tuna, but were not told the secret to using it efficiently (20). The ship consistently only brings in four percent of its potential haul, but “no one says anything, no one does anything, for no one dares lose face”(20). The Tikongs’ pride prevents them from seeking help from those with experience in the fishing industry, and therefore the industry cannot develop. The gap in their knowledge of fishing inhibits them, but their pride does not allow them to fill that gap.
Similarly, the foreigner Sharky approaches a fisherman of the island and “forces him ever so gently to accept $4000 in Development Loans from the Appropriate Authorities”(21). The fisherman speaks only broken English, and does not understand what Sharky is proposing. Nevertheless, he is convinced to accept the deal, even though he cannot see exactly what Sharky’s deal means. Because of the language gap here, Sharky is taking advantage of the fisherman. And, “although he was full of doubt”(22), the fisherman enters into a deal without knowledgeable consent. The fisherman ends up falling into debt, losing all his credit, and reverts back to his old life.
Luckily my situation was much less serious that the fishermen’s, but it made me realize how easily someone with a physical disability or a gap in their knowledge can be taken advantage of by others. This is an issue commonly related to imperialist occupation and development of foreign colonies, as is demonstrated by the exploited fisherman story. What is noteworthy about Tales of the Tikongs, however, is how author Epeli Hau’ofa shows that the Tikongs are able to take what the imperialists bring, then change it into something that fits into their indigenous culture. Someone brings over an old bike, and an entire family uses it to move around the town. The Tikongs are told to work during the week, so they go to their offices and play cards and rest up for Church the next Sunday. While some foreigners take advantage of the Tikongs’ lack of business knowledge, those who try to change the Tikongs as a people are unsuccessful. As Manu says, “Tiko can’t be developed, unless the ancient gods are killed”(18). Unless the ancient roots of the civilization are destroyed, Tiko will not be developed into another imperial colony.