|It happened during the last days of my sixth grade in school as I was taking part in the Physical Education examination. A class-mate was chasing a ball and he ran into me. I fell down unconscious and, after regaining consciousness, I could only see darkness all around me. I was in hospital and the doctor concluded that my sight could not be restored.
So my parents sent me to a special school for the blind in Kudus, about 60 kilometres away from my hometown of Semarang in Central Java. I learned to read and write Braille, Orientation and Mobility, and other daily living skills. Eventually, I was allowed to sit for my final examination which had been long delayed due to my accident. I passed with good marks and the Headmaster awarded me with a pack of fine Braille paper to mark my achievement.
Then I went to a school for the blind in Ciamis, West Java, for my junior high school education. During one of the holidays, I decided not to return home because I wanted to use the time for writing an essay for a contest organised by the Ministry of Education for blind students all over the country. The fine Braille paper, awarded to me for my sixth grade examination, came in very handy. When the results were announced over a year later as I was completing junior high school, I was overjoyed to learn that I had won the third prize of 125,000 Rupiahs. It was like a huge prize to me and it was such a wonderful experience receiving the cheque directly from the Minister of Education, Mr. Nugroho Notosusanto.
I continued my schooling in a regular high school for the sighted. It was a reputable school and the prize money enabled me to pay for the entrance fee and the school fees for the next three years. I was very glad not to have to burden my parents with the payment of school fees.
During my first days in high school, I was able to impress my class-mates with my Braille notes. They were curious to know how my finger-tips could read the notes of my History lesson so accurately over the photograph of a pretty girl. They did not understand that I had brailled my History lesson on a page torn from a magazine.
Playing Cards was a favourite game during the school camp. I sought permission from my class-mates to put Braille on the cards so that I could join them in the game. I proved to be a good player and everyone of them wanted to be my partner. On one occasion, I was the member of a Bridge team which won in a contest of our local community. Soon I became known as "Mr. Joker" among my friends.
After graduating from high school, I moved to Bandung for my higher education. Here I became active in church activities. I remember how the congregation was so impressed as I read some Bible verses in Braille.
"Isn't he Bartemius?" I heard some one whispering aloud. She was referring to a blind man in one of the Bible stories.
That occasion paved my way to new friendships. For example, some one who had seen me reading the Bible verses came to me one day and asked if I would teach his blind daughter to read and write Braille. In return, he would pay for all my university expenses. Actually, studying at university does cost a lot of money and I almost decided to give it up. Fortunately, Braille came to my rescue and I even went on to complete the Master's Programme in Guidance and Counselling.
In pursuing my degree course, one of my main difficulties was the lack of books in Braille. Therefore, I had to depend on the Voluntary Reader Service to have my books read and I would make the notes in Braille. Among the volunteers, there was a girl who showed interest in reading and writing Braille. So I taught her and she practised by composing short poems for me to read. In return, I also wrote poems for her. Soon this developed into expressions of our feelings -- the feelings of love.
A few months after I was employed as a counsellor in a special school for the blind in Bandung, we got married. Now we have one beautiful daughter.