From Three Cups of Tea to Blindsight: Motivational stories from mountain climbing

After discussing my blog with friends, they gave me a copy of the New York Times bestseller, Three Cups of Tea . The story is about Greg Mortensen, who was saved by villagers when he lost his way climing K2 . The leader of the village told him to “listen to the wind” to determine how to give back to the people. He heard little girls’ voices in the wind, found out they had no money for education so piece by piece he was able to start formal education for girls in Pakistan. This man’s journey to change Pakistan reawakened my interest in the following inspirational story and movie Blindsight.

I walked into this job with little information about the film. Usually, I research a film’s actors, directors, writers, and producers. My task included makeup for two women. Okay, no sweat. I’ve done this many times over the years. I arrived early at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C. and was later greeted by the publicist. When the subject arrived using a pole and accompanied by a male subject’s guide dog, I was not mentally prepared. So many questions swirled in my head as I grasped what was ahead for me that day. “Was this a documentary? How will I relate to this person? How is it that she doesn’t seem to be any different and yet she can’t see?”

“Are you black?” was the first thing blind educator Sabriye Tenberken, who established the first school for the blind in Tibet, asked me. To the fair skinned German I replied, “I look similar to you.” The next question came fast, Sabriye said, “How do you make up dark skin compared to light skin?”. Where was she going with these leading questions? I figured she was trying to gauge my abilities as a makeup artist. Without being able to see me and how I do makeup, she had no way of determining upfront whether I was good at my craft or whether I could make her look “like herself” as she requested.  Fortunately, I reassured her that my goal is always to do natural makeup and to help make the subject look rested and flawless. I told her that on dark skin I use lighter color to highlight and darker colors to blend and that I do slightly opposite on light skin.

I was still adjusting as I contemplated that it was unnerving doing makeup for someone with no sight. Why did it matter how she looked? Were we “making her up” for us, for her? Why did it matter to the world out there what she looked like for her press junket for the movie Blindsight? Because she has good skin (the easiest makeup to do), she didn’t seem to need much makeup.  In addition, my personal joy of making someone up to feel good about themselves with a beautiful application was seemingly useless to her. What appeared to interest her more had to do with people, humor, and politics. Thankfully, my abilities are not just in art but in the training and education I received in counseling psychology from Boston College to be a good listener (harder than you may think) and to be nonjudgmental (also harder than you may think). What I learned that day from Sabriye was that her sense of humor and positive outlook on life experiences is deeply rewarding in spite of her missing one important sense of sight. That determination led her to start a school for the blind in Lhasa, Tibet and to email a letter to the famous blind mountain climber, Erick Weihenmayer, who made it to the summit of Mt. Everest. A Sundance Film Festival winner resulted from the movie about how Sabriye and Erik took 6  blind teenagers, who in Tibet where shunned and thought to be demons,  up the north side of Mt. Everest. The adventure did not lead them to the top of the mountain, but to the top of their personal experience in life. Sabriye said, ” They did  it! They climbed the largest mountain in the world, felt the strong breezes on their face, heard the whistling sound over the cliffs and tasted the clear cool water in the rivers.”

Check out the movie at

After the whole two days with no complaints and just suggestions on how to make her look natural, she asked, “Why do we need makeup anyway?” Isn’t it bad for your skin?’ To which all I could think to reply was that makeup is a good shield from the sun. Sabriye quickly retorted, “Then just wear a hat!”


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