Lệ, 22 years old, was raised in a family of five. Her father, age 45 and totally blind, runs a small variety store out of their home in Lãng Ngâm village in Bac Ninh province. Her mother is the same age and works as a farmer. Her younger sister, also visually impaired, is 19 years old and her younger brother is 16 years old.
As Lê, her father, and her younger sister are all visually impaired, and both Lê and her younger sister’s visual impairment share one significant and seemingly unusual similarity, it appears likely that their visual impairment has an inherited commonality. Lê and her sister are both able to see significantly better at night when existing light tends to be focused on certain things, leaving all else in the shadows. As both sisters are severely cross-eyed this allows them to be able to see whatever it is that is most clearly illuminated. Their father was only partially impaired as a youth but at about age 21 he lost his sight completely, and over a relatively very short period of time.
Lệ describes herself as “happy, cheerful and delightful”. She laughs and smiles...a lot, and says she likes being happy. When pressed, she admitted readily to being popular in her classroom. And when pressed further she also confessed that she was definitely popular with the boys. She seemed to enjoy being teased about this and explained that she felt this was likely due to her happy and outgoing personality. One of her colleagues at Omamori compares her to one of those Russian dolls with a cheery face, pink cheeks, and around the base: “You can push her over but she’ll never stay down for long.” In school, Lê’s favorite subjects were music and literature. She especially loves to read the ancient legends of Vietnam and really enjoys the Vietnamese pop music scene.
Though visually impaired, Lê’s friends and classmates weren’t really conscious of this for the most part because she was able to keep up with her classwork and participate in most of the normal activities of the other students--even riding her bicycle, dangerous though it was. The hidden nature of her visual impairment, though it worked to her advantage in this sense, meant that while she was not discriminated against, she also received no special assistance from her classmates. It was only her teachers who knew the true extent of her impairment and offered assistance. But it also meant that she was exempted from most of what she describes as “the boring stuff” while being given ample opportunity to engage in social activities and to indulge her love of singing. At home, when not doing her homework, reading books or listening to music, she enjoyed helping with the cooking, something she still enjoys doing.
Lê attended public schools through 9th grade but had to leave public school at that time, no longer able to make the 10-kilometer trip alone. Her father, a member of the Blind Association then introduced her to the School for the Blind in Hanoi where she enrolled in weekend classes and continued until last year, completing her baccalaureate degree. (What did she do during the week from age 16, until coming to OS?) Soon thereafter, though she had planned to apply to Hanoi’s premier university specializing in traditional medicine, it was unfortunate that in this same year that program stopped accepting visually impaired students. Fortunately, however, it was soon thereafter--indeed just this year--that the Center for the Blind became certified to offer a two-year program in Vietnamese Traditional Medicine where she has now gained acceptance, attending classes on weekends. She expects to complete her degree requirements there at the end of next year. Assuming she succeeds, she will qualify to become a licensed physician.
During the course of our conversation, Lê flitted cheerfully from topic to topic, laughing readily and clearly enjoying being teased about boys, her vision, her occasional laziness and more, thus earning her nickname with which seemed happy to be given (a nickname given for the best of reasons and intended only to shed a positive light on her delightful personality). In many ways our conversation was more a continuous stream of lighthearted banter, meandering from topic to topic, than a story of her life. Or perhaps this lightheartedness is the story of her life.
At one point, storyteller, interpreter, videographer and interviewer, all, burst into laughter at the notion of her using her white cane (which she says she really doesn’t need because she can make out the shadow images of people and obstacles as she RIDES HER BIKE, yikes!), waving it out in front of her to warn off pedestrians and traffic alike. At another point we all got a good laugh when I asked her to describe her dream man. “Oh, I’ll make my choice next year amongst several guys I’m dating now, after I finish medical school”, she replied. Social butterfly, indeed!
But then she showed her serious side, as well, when queried about her dream for the future: “And then again, I may never get married at all. Actually, my biggest dream is to open my own spa, a spa where I can combine my love of cosmetics and beauty enhancement with my love of treating people’s physical ailments.” Social butterfly, perhaps, but Lê is also serious about her work and like the Russian doll, not one to let much of anything hold her down, or hold her back.
Check back with her in the future. We’re sure you’ll enjoy following her progress.