In 1960, Fats Domino collaborated with Bobby Charles to create the R&B standard "Walking to New Orleans." The song speaks of one engaged in an arduous journey to return to the city he loves. For some, our annual trip to Mardi Gras in the Crescent City is viewed with concern and incredulity. Why, they contend, should blind people subject themselves to the crowds and other potential obstacles? Why should they be so interested in traveling to New Orleans during this most boisterous of holidays? Please read on as our students answer these questions and discuss why it is so important that they had the opportunity to walk in New Orleans.
Mary poetically says: "Masks and melodies, beads and boat tours, food and fun, those are the memories which I will always associate with my first ever Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Though the trip is done as a training activity, it is virtually impossible to visit that most personable city, during its signature festival, and avoid thoroughly enjoying oneself. It is also impossible to go with LCB staff and students, and not help but realize that the blindness skills which we have earned during our training do apply to all of life; whether it is walking through the French Quarter, and knowing which way is East and which is West, and being able to find places you have never heard of independently, or whether it is traveling on board a river boat, these are the skills which will carry us through the rest of our lives. It is extremely satisfying for all of us to realize that these skills are not only giving us the independence to live in the world as we wish, but that this independence includes the choice to enjoy life."
Karoll tells us: "My name is Karolline, and I am 34 years old. I have been blind since I was born and I have always been living in Brazil. In June, 2014, I got the chance to start a training for blind adults at Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB). It gave me the opportunity to participate in the Mardi Gras 2015. It was my first Mardi Gras, so everything was new. I really enjoyed watching the parades, catching the beads, and get to know a little bit of New Orleans. I also appreciated the wonderful music (Jazz and Blues) that I could listening to all over the streets. Besides that, I took advantage of the culture regarding to different kinds of food and drinks. The most important of all is that I was able to enjoy everything by using the cane travel skills that I have been gaining as a student at LCB. This center is definitely the best confidence builder that I have ever been. Thank you LCB staff for everything you guys have been teaching me."
Jason did not allow fear to stop him. Here's what he has to say: "One of the main ways that Marti Gras increased my confidence was navigating through the crowds of people. At first, I didn't think I would go to Bourbon Street just because I heard that it was so crowded, loud, dirty, and full of people who are under the influence of alcohol. I was also afraid that I would lose my group members. Well, another member of my group wanted to go to Bourbon Street, so we ended up going there. When we got there, it was what I had expected, yet there were many friendly people who just gave us beads and a nice man who prayed for us and our success. I don't know if I'll go back there again, but it was an experience that I'll always remember. Another way that I became more confident was realizing that I am able to navigate in a totally unfamiliar city. Each member of our group took turns leading and getting directions to where we wanted to go. It was clear to me that the travel skills that I learned in Ruston work in any city and inspired me to get out and explore. We asked the hotel workers and staff members for recommendations of restaurants and places to go, decided where we wanted to go, and just stuck to our guns. We all had a great Marti Gras experience."
Jade enthusiastically declares: "Mardi Gras was a huge eye-opening experience for me. Before I went, I was worried about getting separated from my group, crazy tourists, being able to navigate through huge crowds, etc. Even though I was nervous, I was also excited, and I knew I had the travel skills to get around unfamiliar areas. While I was there, I learned that I had nothing to worry about. Dealing with crazy people is something that everyone goes through, sighted or not. Also, I realized that the systems we had set in place for staying together worked beautifully, and I learned that having fun and enjoying yourself instead of panicking and worrying about what could happen made the trip really awesome. Knowing all of this, I am certain that if I go to Mardi Gras events again, I will not be nearly as apprehensive as I was before."
Caitlin didn't let the crowds slow her down. She says: "Mardi Gras was certainly a different experience for me—something I've never experienced before, but certainly enjoyed. While I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I was challenged with confidence building. Some of the things I learned and became more confident in made me extremely happy. One of the major confidence builders for me was navigating through large crowds of people at a good walking pace. There wasn’t many times where I found it too difficult to move around the people and I would always say “excuse me,” or “I’m sorry,” if I bumped into anyone. Another big confidence builder for me was seeing and realizing the techniques I’ve learned really do transfer to any situation while traveling. I also managed to come out of my shell and be more assertive with getting information and directions to a place I wanted to go. Knowing I can do these things now makes me happy, and I am looking forward to doing more exercises like this even after I graduate."
Joy demonstrates her willingness to communicate why we do what we do and has this to share: "When I heard that LCB was going to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I shuttered inside. I did not want to go, because of the crowds there. However, I surprised myself as I traveled down the streets with very few problems, enjoying the sounds of Carnival music, and meeting people. I got the chance to explain what the purpose of bringing a bunch of blind students to Mardi Gras was all about to a good many people who wanted to know. Outside a music store a man and woman approached a fellow student and me, and they asked to pray for us. One of the instructors that was with our group said sure, and asked if we can pray for them as well. I got the chance to sing for the couple, then I led the prayer for them, and then they prayed for us. While those two people went away amazed, I went away feeling happy that I could demonstrate that I had talent and independence on my side. That was my favorite experience at Mardi Gras. Our group went on a boat ride, and ate lunch there. The Jazz music was absolutely fantastic, and the food was excellent. While navigating the buffet was challenging, I enjoyed the chance to choose my own kinds of food. Though I had lots of fun, I learned more about street crossing, communicating with the sighted world in teaching those who want to know truly what it means to be blind, and that is getting out and enjoying life, as well as learning from each experience."
Finally, Anne shows us that Mardi Gras isn't just a training exercise, but THAT IT can and should be a great time! "The Mardi Gras trip was my favorite experience in training so far. I sincerely enjoyed the entire trip. Aside from just having a fun time, I experienced personal growth, and improvement in blindness skills. It is great to see that your new blindness skills really do work in real life situations, and to see how much you have learned. Personally, I noticed improvement in my travel skills, specifically mental mapping, planning routes, keeping track of a group, and moving effectively through crowds. I noticed this just through doing simple fun things, like finding a restaurant to have dinner at, or locating a store that interested me, or exploring the French market. Throughout the trip, multiple people asked, how do you have an enjoyable experience at Mardi Gras if you can’t see?” With the blindness skills and confidence I have gained so far through the LCB training, and the things I learned during the trip, I had just as good of a time, if not better, as everyone else attending Mardi Gras."