“Seeing Hands” –My Experience with a Blind Massage in Cambodia


by Kevin White Barth

The sign outside of a "blind massage" place

With a two-hour break after the morning OR routine, I went with two women from SEVA Foundation of Canada to try out a blind massage. I had no idea what it was about, but I knew it would be interesting! Part of me was tempted to head back to the hotel and rest, away from the dust and the crowds in the street . . . but there would be no story there! We got a street map and headed out. My Khmer (the official language of Cambodia) is limited to pleasantries—“thank you”, “good morning”, “good night”, “you’re welcome”–so ducking into the little Chinese Medicine Pharmacy or a stall at the open market to ask for the location of the Blind Massage place proved to be tough. Performing a pantomime of a blind massage brought stares and giggles, but no directions.

We finally found the BOCC Eye Center run by Dr. BalKumar K.C., the SEVA Foundation eye surgeon from Nepal. I asked Dr. K.C. what he knows about the blind massage places that dot the city. He told me that they are all victims of landmines. He still sees half a dozen cases of blindness caused by landmines each year. Unfortunately, in Cambodia, very little can be done to restore the landmine victims’ vision. Cambodia has the largest population of amputees in the world caused by landmines.  It is hard to imagine not being able to walk out in the countryside without fears of being severely injured.

Warning sign for land mines

The Eye Center staff kindly pointed us in the right direction, and it was actually just around the corner! The sign outside read “Blind Massage…Seeing Hands Massage”. The front of the space was draped in sheets, and we peeked under to see what awaited us inside. We saw a woman in her mid thirties, her eyes completely white, standing by five massage beds. We stood there with our hands in prayer position–a common greeting in Cambodia– waiting to be invited in. After a few moments, I realized that an oral greeting was needed. “Hello!” I said, “May we come in for a massage?” Within seconds, two more people with fixed smiles came from a back corridor, also blind and horribly disfigured–victims of land mines.

We were given plastic baskets with cotton shirts and pants, one size fits all, and led to a changing room. I am taller than the other women and not as full-figured, and my pants refused to stay up. I finally twisted the waistband to pick up the slack. My companions are already laying face down. If my pants did fall down, there would be no witnesses, since I am now the only sighted person left standing.  My masseuse, a woman half my height, is waiting next to the bed. I had heard the other women respond to the question “Hard, Medium or Light?” “Hard,” they said. Not me. “Light,” I whispered, “I am a wuss!”

A little over an hour later, I was grateful for the experience and grateful that I said “light”. This was not a wine country spa, essential oil massage. This was just short of rolfing. I do have to admit some parts of me felt better after my tiny massage therapist’s pressure-point probing. I am sure she wished that she had charged me by the inch instead of the hour, as my massage lasted 10 minutes longer than my companions. We paid our $7 ($6 plus tip) and changed into our street clothes in the dark. The changing room light had been turned off, and we had to find our way in the dark–interesting. With our hair comically rearranged and our post massage cradle faces, we headed back to the hospital–grateful for the blind trio and their hands and grateful to be able to see the dust and the crowds of Battambang.

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About ecivision

This blog is a great way for the doctors at The Eye Care Institute to talk about their practice, challenges, passions, success stories, educate, and all around show the people behind the white coats. For more information on the practice, please visit http://www.see-eci.com to learn more. The Eye Care Institute has served residents of the Redwood Empire for more than 56 years – one of the longest serving continuous practices between the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oregon border. Over the years, new doctors have joined the practice and others have retired; but as the baton has been passed, each one has focused on helping their patients see the very best they can. Today, some of their patients are the grown up grandchildren of patients who came to the practice in the early 1950s! ECI offers a wide range of eye services for patients of all ages, as well as a full-service optical dispensary, with a lens-finishing lab on the premises so that our opticians can control the quality and often shorten turnaround time. Optical Manager Bruce Jonas has directed ECI’s dispensary since it opened in 1995 and has served Sonoma County since 1970. He is widely recognized as the pre-eminent optician in the Redwood Empire – ready to serve you! We’d be happy to have you browse our website for information on the doctors and services we offer, as well as information on eye conditions and procedures. Visit http://www.see-eci.com. And we’d be delighted to have you call us to schedule an appointment! Call Us Today! 707-546-9800
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One Response to “Seeing Hands” –My Experience with a Blind Massage in Cambodia

  1. jan brooks says:

    Kevin
    We are indeed a blessed and privileged people…this is a good reminder to live a
    life of “thankfulness” and grace to all those around us…we walk in LIGHT more than
    we know..blessings on your trip..I’m sure you and Gary are making a difference…

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