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Monday, March 11, 2013

the optician


Every three or so years I make a visit to the optician. This is roughly the amount of time that it takes for me to; a) break the last pair of spectacles I bought and b) have reached that point of both desperation and availability of money that allows me to get new ones.

The last glasses I had were broken by robbers, I started school recently and I can’t see anything. Not the PowerPoint on the screen, not my lecturers as they speak and not even the pretty girls who got all dressed up to be admired. These are three things whose function, whose destiny it is to be seen and while I may be ok with not achieving my purpose in life don’t let it be said that I am a disabler.

The way to buy glasses in Kenya is to buy frames off the street and walk into an optician’s office for the lenses. I go to the same optician all the time. He’s an Indian guy(or a series of Indian guys I’m actually not sure because when I go there I don’t have my glasses on account of them being broken) who operates out of a shop near the railway station. I’m not sure what the name of the shop is but close to it is a chips and chicken joint. The kind that used to be popular before they all became kenchics. The kind that had a dozen different names and were strewn all over the town centre and where (if you lived in Nairobi) you wold be taken to on a Sunday afternoon right after church sometimes. The chicken would be grilling ever so slowly, turning around and around on a spit, moving slowly and seductively, brown thigh and brown breasts bringing lust to all your senses so that when you learned that there was a Swahili phrase like kuku pono it made perfect sense.

What happens is you enter the optician’s shop and one of the three attendants comes up to you. They are all female attendants all the better to push the ludicrously high-charged frames hanging around the wall on you. Then you sit down before the main test and look into this machine thing. It’s like a pinhole camera with an image at the back of it. You rest your chin on it and the hole is put first to your left eye then to your right eye. The image flashes clear and sharp then becomes blurry and indistinct. It’s an image of an English house, with an English yard and a white picket fence. In earlier times I would not have thought much about that image but recently I have become much more attuned to the cultural colonialism that we are under in Kenya. Point of fact : this post is in English, I wrote one a couple of weeks ago about thebooks I had read and they were all in English. Until very recently the good movies about Kenya were not made by Kenyans(seriously though if you haven’t yet watch Nairobi half-life go do it) it’s very hard to find long pieces of journalism, the kind filled with background and context, the ones that try to explain not only the conflict and the immediate reasons for it but also the history and the forces that led to it in Africa written by an African. This is probably due to the economic set up of most of our news reporting. Those kind of pieces rarely show up in newspapers around the world but abound in weekly magazines, most of our magazines explain personal instead of public relationships though. E.g. it would be good to read a profile of a politician or a businessman, something that looks into his beginnings and the path he has taken.(there is a chance I just don’t know where to look if you do please leave a link behind I promise to use it.) Instead there is a lot about how to keep a man happy or a woman interested

Moving on from that digression. Next you are led into the inner sanctum. The quiet, dark place where the testing takes place. The optician turns off the light and asks you to sit down. He takes out this huge metal mask(for lack of a better word.) what it is though is a metal instrument with a bridge where it fits over your nose and a pair of swivelling arms that have the ability to fit different lenses. There is of course a notice board opposite you with letters in decreasing size. The mask is put on your face and  he asks you to read. You read what you can and he  plays around with the setting of one of the lenses. Sliding glass into the metal receptacle, it makes a tiny version of the hands screeching over a blackboard noise, scree, scree as he does it. He asks you to read again from the board. All this time he has a tiny torch that he shines in your eye. For me this has the effect of making me tear up. Magically as he does this you see better and better  until you can read this line of words perfectly. This is always a good moment. Everything is right with the world and you can see the way other people see. Which is with clarity and distinction, you are able to make out outlines of objects instead of massing them all together. You can see the trees in the forest. The world becomes more beautiful because it’s not just a mass of objects but each object on its own.

Then he told me I would have to get photocromatic lenses because I am allergic to light. I had never heard this said this way before and it was hurtful. Allergic to light. This is a horrible state of affairs to find yourself in. he made me feel like some kind of vampire, some creature who this world wasn’t made for because the world is filled with light. It floods every aspect of it, makes it better and brighter. I am a fan of light too bad though the rest of my body isn’t. The bright side(though I am allergic to the bright side of things apparently.) I don’t have to hear such things for on average another three years.