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Date: 08/04/2017
Title: Dinning in the Dark, an Experience of Flavors and Textures

By Maria Victoria Diaz

Last week, I had the opportunity to have dinner in the dark on Thursday night. For three years in a row, I had missed the same event organized by Lighthouse Central Florida and Second Harvest Food, but I finally made it!
 
I asked my friend Judy, who is blind, to come with me.  Kind of safe to go with an expert in the field, don’t you think? 
 
people chatting in the lobby of dinning in the dark







We started with a cocktail party in a lobby. I was not sure what to expect at that time. Lights were on, so I can give you an idea of the crowd with some pictures. In the first picture there were elegant people waiting in the lobby, most of them holding a drink.








To enter the dinning room, guests were called in by pre-assigned table numbers.  We made a row, and touched the shoulders of the person in front of us, to be guided inside by a handsome man−it is not a subjective comment, I swear he was handsome.  See the following picture.  
2-pictures collage: People form a line and put their hands in the shoulders of the person before them.  In the far right of the collage, a member of the SWAT team stands before the line.
I learned that members of the Orlando Police Department SWAT team volunteered for the event every year.  Thank you guys!  They looked really attractive in their casual camo pants, kaki T-shirt a little bit tight, and their helmets with a camera that had an invisible light attached to the top of helmet[1].  They looked like miners!!  
Lobby, 3 members of the SWAT team with helmets stand by the dining room door
The SWAT team members guided us in and each of them was assigned to serve a table. The following images show how the ladies in my party couldn’t resist asking them for pictures!
 3-pictures collage: Outdoors at night, 3 members of the SWAT team pose smiling with a lady in each of the pictures. The ladies are Juliana Olarte, Amanda Cadena and MarĂ­a Diaz-our CEO.
The last picture I have to share shows my team for the adventure: one of our describers at Dicapta-Jorge, the leader of our development team-Daniel, our manager-Amanda, my friend Judy with her inseparable companion Keats, and my baby-Juliana. Yes, the young lady taller than me.  She will be my baby forever.  We all smile in the picture, ready for the adventure.
Lobby. Judy Matthews, from Lighthouse, and 5 people from Dicapta stand together smiling. 
Even though I would like to share more images with you, it is not possible since we had no light there. No light, no pictures-not without special equipment that you won’t normally take to dinner.  I must share the experience from my point of no-view.
 
We had no problem entering the dark room in a row guided by the members of the SWAT team. Thanks God I have many friends who are blind!  I have seen them enough to move with ease to sit and find my napkin, water and the empty glass of wine as well as my silverware.  So far, so good.
 
Anyone ready for wine?  Let’s pour some wine.  Red or white?  No problem smelling and choosing.  No problem putting the finger inside the empty glass to calculate how much wine I wanted.  I am an expert, I thought.
 
Here comes the first course, I mean the first problem!  I could smell the cucumber L; whatever it is, it has cucumber on it.  I really don’t like it.  I decided to start; I would avoid the cucumber in the appropriate forkful when it came.   I should know for sure.  Huh, I ate the whole thing: shrimps, lettuce, and a tasty cream.  It was really good. I guess the amount of cucumber was limited or… I am not sure how to conclude this…

Then, my first big discovery came.  I apologize in advance if it sounds pretty obvious, but I realized how good my brain works.  I didn’t need to see for the glass of wine and the fork to come exactly to the right place: my mouth.  I can’t tell you the distance between the table and my mouth, or the exact size of the dish, or how full the glass was or where the fork was.  My brain did all the math calculations and estimations based on the information it had, and it was extremely easy and natural to eat my dinner and have my wine!
  
Judy gave guidelines to some of my friends on how to handle the food to keep it on the plate and how to know when it was done.  I just used my fingers to touch around the plate and tried to determine if I was done based on the feeling with the fork.
 
For the second course, the chefs chose a combination of vegetables and fruits; it was really good too!  I remember beets, orange, and watermelon. For those of us who love food, dinning in the dark is an amazing experience!  I can’t tell if it was because of the novelty, but I really enjoyed being especially conscious of the tastes and flavors.  I commented about the great taste of the beets, and someone in our table stopped eating right away.  I ruined the second course for him when I gave the news of beets in the dish!
 
I refused to lose my manners, so I decided to use the knife and cut pieces for my third course.  I felt confident, no evidence about any possible mess I did though. 
 
We introduced ourselves at the table because we knew we were with someone else beside our group.  Then, it hit me!  What if I were shy! How bad can it be being shy and blind?  You are not going to see me if I am shy!  After a little chat with my friend Judy… I felt better.  Don’t worry silly, there are people around you who are not blind, and no matter how shy you are, when it comes to talking about our common interests, we just talk blind or not.
 
I have asked too many questions to my friends who are blind during my 15 years working in the field of accessibility.  You would be surprised with some of my questions and with some of their answers, but, on Thursday, some new questions came to my mind.  I had to urgently ask the handsome guy, that guided us in, if the restrooms that night had light before asking him to guide me there!! 

I don’t want to write a ten page detailed report.  I just want to encourage you to go and experience it yourself.  You are going to enjoy it, I promise!
 
Dining in the dark reminded me why I am doing what I am doing every single day: building bridges among people with sensory disabilities and those who temporally have the ability to hear and see. 
  
Thank you to Lighthouse Central Florida and Second Harvest Food for organizing this unique event.  My suggestions for next year: please try to control the noise inside the dining room.  It will be a much better experience if it was less noisy.  Count us in for some ideas in this regard.  I would also suggest to have someone who is blind, or visually impaired, at the end of the event to answer silly questions.


[1]thermographic camera (also called an infrared camera or thermal imaging camera) is a device that forms an image using infrared radiation, similar to a common camera that forms an image using visible light. From Wiki
 

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