At age nine, Philani Twala sat in class and struggled to see the board. All he could see was shapes and shadows. This had never happened to him before and he was so scared that he asked his friend, Xolani, to take him home. This was in 2005.

“When I got home I sat on my bed and cried, not because my eyes were sore, but because I couldn’t see,” says Philani.

Philani didn’t know it at the time, but he had an eye disease that affected his corneas (think of the corneas as windscreens over your eyes). The disease caused his corneas to slowly swell up and bulge out. Philani told his mom that he could not see and she got him a cream that he used. The next day, he went back to school. He pretended that he could see properly.

He carried on like this for ten years. Only his family, Xolani and the school principal knew that there was something wrong with Philani’s vision.

“I didn’t understand why this was happening to me, but after some time I understood that this is how I was going to live.”

Throughout his school career, Xolani helped him by taking notes in class for him. But he had problems reading his textbooks and failed three times between primary and high school. Philani says his teachers often thought he was just being naughty when he brought up the fact that he could not see properly.

He remembers once receiving a Valentine’s Day gift, a balloon with his name on it and a little note attached. He says he was embarrassed because he could not read the note. Instead, a classmate grabbed it and read it aloud in front of the whole class. He could not see the girl who gave him the card so missed the opportunity of being her Valentine.

Philani says he used to just listen and imagine what everything looked like, from tall buildings, the busy streets of Jozi, the calabash stadium, Nkandla, cars, 3D movies.

Philani thought he would be visually impaired for life. In March 2016, donations from fellow South Africans and Ster-Kinekor, made it possible for him to get a cornea transplant. When he took the bandage off after his operation, Philani saw his mom smiling and crying at the same time.

“I just smiled and said, ‘Mama, you’re beautiful!’”

He was happy to see the person who had been taking care of him, and now he just wants to make her proud.

“I’m living now. I just want to do ordinary things again; cook, clean, go to the pool with my friends.”

He looks forward to Christmas, not because of the songs, but because he can finally see the clothes his mom buys for him, look at himself in the mirror and comment on how he looks. He can dream freely, of being a sound engineer and buying his mama a house.

It’s funny how being blind gave Philani the privilege of not seeing people’s race or gender. He says he just heard voices, and that taught him not to treat people based on their race or gender.

Adapted from an article on LiveSA. Click here to read original article.