While millions of vehicles clog cities everyday – and 20,000 thousand accidents are reported every year – a man who lost his sight 17 years ago has been riding around Kampot Province without injury ever since.
Many people in his area wonder why he does so – but it is his wife who acts as his eyes while sitting quietly behind her blind husband as he bravely rides his motorbike while big trucks and other vehicles pass by.
At 45, Chok Bol of Sroka Neak Village lost his sight while he was working as a liberation soldier in 1995.
He was a de-miner when a mine blew up in his face and blinded him; he was then expelled from the army.
“At that time I turned to music to earn a living,’’ he tells 7Days. “My wife and I are in a traditional band and perform at wedding ceremonies.”
Despite his blindness, Chok Bol plays several traditional instruments such as the Tro (a string instrument), a Khoem (a string instrument played with a pair of bamboo sticks), and Takae (more like a traditional guitar).
“Thanks to traditional music I have a new life – otherwise I would not be able to buy rice or survive,” he says.
Although he lost his sight, he still had to be a dedicated husband and family breadwinner. But he can still ride his motorbike to the markets and other places on one condition – his wife has to be on the motorbike with him.
“I can ride on every road and to every destination if my wife So Luh is seated behind me,” he says. “When she’s with me I can even ride from my hometown to Phnom Penh.”
But he admits he would a “sculpture” on a non-moving motorbike without his wife.
His secret is that his wife’s eyes also work for him. And she can guide him without speaking a word.
“A graceful woman should not ride a motorbike because it is dangerous,” he says.
“That is the reason why I decide to learn how to ride even if I am blind. With her instructions, I’m very confident on the road even though I cannot see anything.”
His wife said that it took him a month to master his peculiar skill – a blind man riding a motorbike. She said he first had to learn to ride an ordinary bicycle around the house before daring to try the motorbike.
“At that time, I sat at the back of his bicycle and gave him directions,’’ she says. “He could ride as well as if he could see like everyone else. Then he tried the same on the motorbike and it worked.”
His wife chose to develop a silent system of direction-giving because she felt riding on a busy road was too noisy to speak. Chok Bol gets his directions by a system where his wife grips his shirt in different ways.
“When I pull his right shirt on the right hand, it’s a sign to turn right,” she explains.
“It’s the same to turn left. When I pull his shirt down, it is the sign to stop. If there is vehicle in the front, I will pull it hard to warn him of danger. I can tell him more about the road by just gripping his shirt. It all means he can see like the rest of us on the road.”
Chok Bol noted that since he started learning to ride his motorbike blind he had never been in an accident.
“I’ve never been, not in the slightest,” he says proudly.
But his wife was wary at first. “I was scared when I first rode with my blind husband,” she says. “But we had to. We had to go from place to place to buy things and perform our shows at weddings in various places.”
Chok Bol added, “I got used to riding in my hometown, but it would be exciting to ride around Phnom Penh.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Sou Vuthy at [email protected]