Seeing hands


It was a hot humid day in Siem Reap, Cambodia. A battered blue and white sign caught my eye: Seeing Hands 4 – Blind Massage. Intrigued and desperate for a break, I followed a small alleyway to a seemingly derelict two-story brick building. Outside a middle-aged woman was washing clothes. I climbed the rickety outside staircase into a small room, occupied by a rusty metal fold up bed with worn blue leather, brown wooden wardrobe, faded blue tiles and a fan with questionable electrics.

Sam San, the 24-year-old Seeing Hands 4 proprietor, was blinded in childhood. There are an estimated 132,000 blind or visually impaired Cambodians, mainly on account of landmines, vitamin deficiencies, traffic accidents and disease. Begging is the usual fate, but with Sam’s venture employees can earn more than many sighted people.

Left alone in the room and unsure whether to undress, I sat apprehensively on the massage table. A slight man no taller than my 5’2” self entered the room and felt his way to the massage table. This seemed like an invitation to climb on the table, even though it seemed 50/50 whether it would collapse under my weight.

I lay on my front, more tense than ever, with my face squashed through a hole and staring at the broken blue floor tiles. The man climbed on the table and straddled me, an unsettling feeling in a foreign country where neither of you speak the same language. As soon as he started the massage though, all tension and worries left. He ground away at every knot in my back and shoulders, and my concept of time vanished. All I knew was that it was dark when he finished.

An hour and a half had flown by and all tension had been massaged away by the $3-an-hour Japanese-style anma and shiatsu massage. The only words uttered between us were ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye,’ but it is an experience I will never forget.

Written by - Photo by steele_chas

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