Uncle Bunn is a name I grew up hearing quite often from my grandparents. Though I can’t remember ever meeting him, it feels like I know him because of the fascinating stories my grandparents and their brother, Raphael, would tell me of him and his brother Henry. Though both Henry and Robert (Uncle Bunn) were born blind, it has not hindered them from accomplishing great things.
He speaks of being born in 1958 and spending a few years in the community of Beeston Spring in Westmoreland, Jamaica with his parents and his brothers, Henry (oldest), Raphael (middle), himself (Robert) and a younger brother who unfortunately passed away not long after being born.
His uncle, who was a Salvation Army officer had introduced his parents to the Salvation Army School for the Blind which was at the time located at 19½ Slipe Pen Road in Kingston, Jamaica. His brother Henry was already attending the school in 1963 when Robert himself enrolled at just 5 years old.
The aim of the boarding school was and still is to help blind and visually impaired children to acclimatize to living with their disabilities and becoming contributing members of society despite their current challenges. He had many fond memories from his school days with his biological brother and the other students who he refers to as his brothers and sisters just the same.
But fondest of all were the memories of the long trips from Kingston to Westmoreland in the early mornings to spend Christmas and Summer breaks with his family. He remembers counting down the days until he would be reunited with his family.
His mother and brother Raphael would meet them at Achinddown (the area where the Sandals South Coast is now located in the parish) with two donkeys to transport them to the hills, as they believed Robert and Henry would not be able to manage the long walk home.
Despite being blind, Uncle Bunn is an avid guitar player, a talent he discovered while attending school. He thanks Peace Corp volunteer Paul Larones for helping him to actualize this gift he had. Paul taught him the basics of guitar playing and then, with practice, he became better. He describes his talent as a gift just waiting to come out as it is the fastest thing he has learnt in his life.
Even after he had graduated from school and went back to Westmoreland, he continued playing the guitar and ever so often, would treat his family and friends to a few notes. He doesn’t think being blind has been a major hindrance in his life as he has been able to live his dream of being a musician by being a part of not one, but two bands with other blind musicians. With both groups, he has had the pleasure of backing famous Jamaican artistes including Beenie Man and Yellow Man as well as late international singer Skeeter Davis for one performance in Jamaica.
He along with his band has also played at many resorts across the island.
As of now work for Uncle Bunn is busking with his visually impaired friend in Kingston. He plays his guitar while his friend sings and they entertain the passengers who sometimes give a small token for their effort.
His wife, Merlene, also blind, spoke about being born blind but being able to see after a corrective surgery was done. She went on to attend school as a regular child and was quite good at it too despite some challenges seeing the board.
She had to adjust to being blind again after losing her sight permanently. Although she is unable to see, she is still able to do almost everything a sighted person would and is quite good at it too! A woman who takes pride in and enjoys being a wife and homemaker, Merlene recalls the stark difference in Robbie’s (her name for her husband Robert) clothes after she started washing them. She is also the one who cooks and irons for them both.
FAQs About Blindness with Robert and Merlene Lawson
Question: Do you use smartphones? Answer: Yes we do. The text to speech feature on the phones makes it quite easy to navigate. It is basically a screen-reader and so we can hear what is being displayed on the screen.
Question: Do You find that people are sometimes condescending towards you? Answer: Yes. All the time. Especially because the common belief as long as you are blind you are deaf and they believe you can’t hear what they are saying about you.
They often speak to the person accompanying you instead, even when asking for simple personal details such as your name, address, telephone number. Sometimes even when you do answer your response is ignored.
Queation: What is the hardest thing about being blind? Answer: People treat you as less than and as though you aren’t normal.
Question: Do blind people cry? Answer: Yes we do
Question: What is the best thing about being blind? If any? Answer: Although I was born blind, I am still able to live a normal life and have the same experiences that a sighted person would.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who is newly blind or visually impaired? Answer: Try to cope with your disability and find a way to motivate yourself. They are many organizations that specialize in helping the blind or visually impaired. Align yourself with these groups and find other persons who like you are disabled.
In Jamaica, the Jamaica Society for the Blind is an amazing avenue to find others like yourself and to learn how to navigate the world as a blind person. They are located at 111½ Old Hope Road in Kingston.
Uncle Bunn believes that Jamaica is special because of the people, culture, music and food. He describes the island as a place where many people from all over the world copy from.
The interview ended with Uncle Bunn and his wife treating us to some melodious music on his guitar.
To get in touch with Robert Lawson, you can do so via WhatsApp at 876-894-5970 or cell at 876-798-2662. You can also reach out to his niece Angella at 876-341-2498.
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About The Author
A patriotic Jamaican who adores its culture, Wellesley has been using this medium to share what he calls 'the uniqueness of Jamaica with the world' since April 2007.
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