Café POTMĚ as a place of reversed roles

18. říjen 2023

On a mild Monday afternoon, our destination was Horní náměstí (Upper Square), nestled within the charming city of Olomouc, where we ventured towards the intriguing Café POTMĚ (“Po tmě” means “in the dark”). 

This particular café was a part of the Prix Bohemia Radio Festival, and, as we approached it, our paths were about to diverge. One of us, Nelča, had lived a life shrouded in visual impairment since her birth, navigating the world in darkness was her natural state. However, for me, this journey was a novel experience. As we made our way to the café, Nelča clung to my arm, and together, we ensured her safe passage.

Accompanied by Alča, we entered the café where she, the one with vision, would now lead the way. Anticipation coursed through me as I looked forward to reuniting with friends I hadn't seen in quite some time, colleagues who were part of this unique establishment.

Upon our arrival at the café, we were greeted by Mirek, who took charge of our experience. His initial offering was a pair of glasses designed to simulate various visual impairments. I chose the ones bearing the label "peripheral vision loss," and as I wore them, my perspective narrowed, like peering through a tiny tube. Meanwhile, Nelča and I secured our belongings in the lockers outside the café and prepared ourselves for the adventure within.

While Alča explored her chosen "visual defects," I´m learning from Mirek about the people I would encounter during our café visit.

At the entrance, Mirek handed us tokens, which we exchange for refreshments in the café and leaved us in the care of our guide Romča. As the last flickers of light disappeared when the door shut behind us, I found myself engulfed in absolute darkness.

I greeted Romča, whom I hadn't met in a long time. I held her shoulders, and Alča followed suit, forming a chain to navigate the uncharted waters of the café. I found myself in a small, intimate space, and by the sounds around me, I surmised that other tables hosted other people engrossed in conversation. As time passed, the darkness became less formidable, and I gradually found my bearings.

From the left, the waiter, Jirka, emerged. He took our orders for coffee and tea, collecting our initial tokens as payment. Soon, other servers made their way to our table. Nelča knew them all, and one by one, they joined us, sharing anecdotes about their work at the café. It didn't take long before I could distinguish each of them by their voices. 

I sipped my coffee, a gesture as familiar in this darkness as in any well-lit café. For Alča, however, this was a novel challenge, as she deftly navigated opening the lid of her cup and inserting the tea bag without the guiding light of vision.

Caught in the captivating ambiance of the café, I lost all sense of time. The background chatter dwindled, and fellow patrons signalled their departure. With the last sip of tea, I reached for Nelča, and together with Romča, we embarked on the journey back to the world of light.

The path to the exit seemed to stretch longer than our entry. Romča urged me to shut my eyes, and with a swift motion, she opened the door. After approximately two hours in the dark, I was once again bathed in daylight. After a brief pause, and as I opened my eyes, the surrounding scene appeared to me in a palette of faded colours. My newfound experiences had breathed life into the world more vivid than ever. However, before I could fully find my bearings, I had to assist Nelča down the first step.

Time had flown swiftly within the café's intriguing confines, as it often does in pleasant company. Waiting for us outside was Mirek, with whom I engaged in a light-hearted conversation. Alča had to warn me about the big step at the entrance to the café, which I had forgotten in the meantime. This brought our roles back and I once again became the one in need of guidance. 

What's the purpose of the POTMĚ Café?

"Café POTMĚ is primarily about role reversal. Outside, the sighted can help the blind on the street, for example. Here, we visually impaired can in turn be a help to the sighted, who can experience what it is like to be blind," explained Kačka, one of the waitstaff.

In addition to drinks, the café staff have prepared various tactile games for their guests. These include a tactile memory game, drawing in the dark, and models of famous structures to be explored through touch. "We are trying to make the café more special. That's why we have tactile games and this year we are also offering biscuits with coffee," adds Kačka.

"For me, the café doesn't just serve as an awareness tool. Once a couple came to us and took me aside after their visit and revealed to me that they told each other things they wouldn't normally say to each other in the dark. I've also heard stories of people who have gone on blind dates in the café and even got married afterwards. I like the fact that the café can be used for these purposes as well," adds Jirka, the waiter. 

Are you interested in Café POTMĚ? You can visit it anytime between 9am and 8pm on Horní náměstí in Olomouc, where it will remain open after the festival until Sunday. Not only will you donate to help the visually impaired, but above all you will meet interesting people and gain a lot of new experiences.

The authors of this article (in Czech), are members of the student editorial team of Prix Bohemia Radio

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