The Jakarta Post
The Dining in the Dark charity event aims to show the struggles people with visual impairments face. (Shutterstock/File)
“This is your seat. Can you feel it?” asked Hermanto, a visually impaired guide and server at the Dining in the Dark media event at the Fairmont Jakarta hotel in Central Jakarta on Tuesday.
I followed his instruction and touched the chair. For the event, the hotel's ballroom was made pitch black. I could not see anything, not even Hermanto, who stood next to me.
“Now you can sit,” Hermanto said, guiding me to my seat.
Hermanto was among the visually impaired servers for the special event.
On Dec. 3, visually impaired friends from Yayasan Mitra Netra, a non-profit organization that focuses on issues for the visually impaired in education and employment, will serve a 12-course set menu to 50 people for Dining in the Dark, a charity event hosted by the Fairmont Jakarta hotel and hospitality company AccorHotels. The one-of-a-kind dinner aims to show the struggles people with visual impairments face.
A visually impaired server from Yayasan Mitra Netra guides four journalists into Fairmont Jakarta's ballroom during the Dining in the Dark media event on Tuesday. (Fairmont Jakarta/File)
At the media event, journalists were divided into six groups, each comprising four people. Since the room was pitch black, we were asked to trust our visually impaired guide to enter and exit it. Once everyone in my group was seated, Hermanto, who was trained only recently to serve guests, began to explain where cutlery and tableware were positioned.
Fairmont Jakarta general manager Carlos Monterde said during a press conference that the participating guests would have the opportunity to experience how the removal of vision enhanced the senses of sound, taste, touch and smell, and increased gastronomic pleasure.
I remembered Monterde’s statements and tried to use my senses to discover every item placed in front of me, from the smooth tablecloth and tableware to metal cutlery, a glass and bottled water.
I noticed an aroma of bread wafting in the air. I then awkwardly grabbed a cloth napkin, feeling scared that I was going to drop something. I searched for the bottled water, touching the smooth tablecloth slowly to get the glass. For the first time in my life, I really paid attention to the bottlecap’s texture.
Dining in a pitch-black room was challenging. A mundane task like pouring water became harder. But it did not stop me. I proceeded to eat the bread, discovering that it tasted sweeter than I imagined. I continued eating the rest of the meals and surmised that, for three of the four dishes, one contained fish cooked in a cream sauce, one was chewy yet tender beef and one had chocolate in it.
After the simulation, I caught up with Yayasan Mitra Netra head Bambang Basuki. Bambang said he hoped that the actual fundraising event would increase the participants’ empathy toward blind people.
“It is only a small part of [our daily struggles],” he said.
Bambang also expressed hope that the guests would realize that visually impaired people could be productive too, so long as they are rehabilitated and given the opportunity to learn some skills.
“For example, they were only recently trained to serve people [for the event]. But they can do it,” added Bambang, referring to Hermanto and his friends.
Dining in the Dark is priced at Rp 2.5 million (US$172) per person. The proceeds from the event will be donated to Yayasan Mitra Netra and A Tree for A Child (ATFAC), AccorHotels’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) program, which provides shelter homes for underprivileged children in Jakarta and Bali, and Achieving the Dream foundation to support and develop talented young athletes in their sporting endeavors. (kes)