Empowering Strory. Mihail Olekhov
the author of the interview: Denis Kishinevsky
translator from RU-ENG: Anastacia Nay
"You have to live here and now, and not demand special treatment for yourself": A musician from Riga about self-belief and the life of visually impaired people from a different angle

Mihail Olekhov is a young, talented musician from Riga. He lost his sight in early childhood, however, it doesn't interfere with self-growth, art and travelling. An 18y.o. boy has an orange belt (4th Kyu) in Aikido. He is now studying at the music school in Prague. By the way, Misha passed his exams on the same terms as everyone else. The hero of our interview lives life to the fullest, communicates, participates in different projects and thinks disability is never a reason to limit and feel sorry for yourself. How does he do that?

- Tell me please what your studies in Prague are like?

- I am a third-year student. Unlike Latvia, here is way more difficult studying. If I were in Riga, I would finish my studies at the end of May, but here in Prague, it's going to be till the second half of June. Also, vacation is shorter here. So, it turns out that most of the time, around 10 months, I spend abroad, and visit Riga once in 3 months. That's where my presence ends, but I come back in summer to try to spend more time and organize something together with my friends.

- What do you study at Jan Deyl Conservatory in Prague?

- I am learning how to play on a piano accordion, to make a long story short. I came to the Czech Republic without language skills, so it was pretty hard at the beginning. I felt on my own what it means to be in a different country without a language. At first, it was difficult and uncomfortable since you cannot ask basic questions. On the other hand, it motivates a lot. You get over yourself and start to cope with a stressful situation – you start to act. In my opinion, this is a very correct position. Act, act and act again. Change yourself and change the here and now, not tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow and so on… with time and patience the leaf of the mulberry becomes satin – that's my motto of life. You don't get results right away, but nothing on earth passes without a trace. Your effort goes straight to the universe, and you will be rewarded.

- Did your parents let you go easily? After all, Prague is not what you'd call a near abroad - a foreign city, new people, an unfamiliar language. It wouldn't have been easy for anyone else in such circumstances, and logically it should have been even harder for you... Or is that not true?

- You know, I was abroad before – I was in the USA for 2 months, so I can't say that moving to the Czech Republic was a great deal of stress. My parents are very open regarding this. They supported me and still support all my endeavours. Perhaps, a lot of people would be surprised, but they didn't talk me out of it, rather pushed me.- Did you have any mentors in Prague?

- At first, we went together with my parents. They were there for a while, but it didn't last long. After that, I started to navigate on my own. Of course, it was quite difficult without a knowledge of the language, but I was lucky. I have met a lot of kind people, they supported me in the moving out process. But there was no student support if we are talking about mentorship. I had to find out everything by myself. If I look back, I need to admit that kind of extreme option is not for everyone, but if a person can handle this, it would be a vigorous experience.I've learned Czech – it's easier like that. Now I can talk to the guys, the locals, but I didn't learn the language just to communicate. I have exams next year. And to get a diploma, I need to pass a Czech language exam. In the beginning, I didn't understand how I am going to make it, but it doesn't scare me anymore now.

- I know that the conservatory where you study has an element of inclusivity. In other words, people with disabilities, including the visually impaired, can study there, but it is also accessible to everyone. Tell us more about this.

- This is a specialized school. There are people with special educational needs and there are ordinary kids.

- Visually impaired people are often asked what they lack when it comes to infrastructure, amenities and enabling environments in cities and countries, but I have heard that you are against this way of putting it. Please clarify your position.

- As always, we look at this issue - the inclusion of people with disabilities - from the side of how comfortable they are, but what we quite typically forget is that these people, including me, also must make some effort. I talk about this regularly. What we mean by the term inclusivity does not mean that society is obliged to give and create all the benefits for the visually impaired, the hearing impaired and others. Inclusivity is about trying to find common ground. A person with a disability should also try to communicate in some way. The better they can do this, the more successful they will be in engagement with society. And society, believe me, will reciprocate.

- Not a typical position for a person with special needs... Tell me, how did you cultivate this tenacity and willpower in yourself?

- Foremost, I want to thank my parents. Secondly, I have had a lot of luck with people – I had very nice company, which certainly influenced my character. My studying has always been based on an interaction with different people and the right environment is favourable towards a person.

- Mihail, I am not afraid to say that you are living a full life. Moreover, many perfectly healthy people would envy your activity. And yet, given the fact that science does not stand still, do you dream to get your vision back one day?

- Hypothetically, anything is possible, but you have to look at the world realistically. I had quite a lot of surgeries. Some of them gave some results, but I personally didn't feel any different, rather just doctors saw them. Do I hope to be able to get my sight back in the future? Seems like the answer is obvious, but actually not that simple. I fully understand that if a visually impaired person suddenly starts to see, they will have to retrain – you will have to start a lot of things from scratch. I would say this: stop building castles in the air, you have to live here and now, and not demand special treatment for yourself, but use all your inner resources and environment to shape your future based on what you have now. Do what you must and come what may.
the author of the interview: Denis Kishinevsky
translator from RU-ENG: Anastacia Nay
Photo by Karolina Grabowska, Pexels