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Erasmus Students Had Cinnamon Buns and Coffee in the Dark

The Pimé Café in the Iiris center close to Itäkeskus in Helsinki is so dark that I cannot distinguish anything. Not myself nor anyone else: not even a streak of light in some hidden crack. We are not allowed to have any phones with us inside the café, to ensure that the darkness is kept pitch black throughout the experience.

— A friend of mine just sent me the link to this event this morning and I like coffee, so I thought why not, says business student Luis Gonzales from Monterrey in Mexico. 

I am just outside of the entrance at the Pimé Café with 19 other Erasmus students and we are about to have coffe in the dark.

— We wanted to organize this event to create an unforgettable exchange experience for our students by providing different types of events for them, as well as to promote inclusivity and open-mindedness towards different groups of people, says Anniina Laamanen, vice president for the Erasmus Student Network Uni Helsinki.

According Anniina Laamanen, being visually impaired can be compared to that of breaking a leg: you still have the ability to walk, but it is reduced in some way. Photo: Sandra Broborn

Visually Impaired Staff

In front of us, waiter Teemu Ruohonen from the Association of the visually impaired (Näkövammaisten liitto ry) explains how we are going to approach the coffee experience in the dark. 

— We have three waiters here, and they will be helping you at the tables. We are entering the dark in three groups and you take the other person’s elbow, as it is easier to follow. There are no stairs, so it is very safe, and you can trust the waiter, Ruohonen says. 

If anyone should feel scared in the dark, it is helpful to speak, as it in many cases reduces the feeling of anxiety, according to Ruohonen.

Once inside of the café I have to admit that I feel somewhat uncomfortable not knowing where I am and where I am supposed to go. I can only hear the voices of the other Erasmus students talking in the periphery.   

Our waiter Markus takes me by the arm and the Erasmus student Beatriz Velods from Madeira, Portugal, comes after me. We have to find each other in the dark by searching for each other’s hands and limbs. 

Markus explains where our chairs are in relation to us and that we have a salty snack in front of us. The other groups have a sweet snack. We sit down and have to rely on our hands to “see” what is in front of us. The room we are in has three tables and is apparently not very big. However, it feels infinite and intimate at the same time. 

— Who are you around the table? I ask. 

In front of me I have Chiara from Milano and next to her Alicia, also from Milano. Suddenly another voice joins the conversation, Mikael from Iceland. 

I have a bite of what I think is a wrap filled with salad and feta cheese, but I am not sure. It feels unusual not being aware of what I put into my mouth. I have to trust my taste buds fully. I feel the urge to know what the others are having too. 

— It is some meat pastry, Velods responds.

It is “lihapasteija” (meat pastry) Markus clarifies in Finnish. 

Spices in the Dark

Then we get instructions from Markus that we can pass around the tea, coffee and milk to one another around the table. I am soon to realise that the casual phrase “here you go” does not work as no one knows where “here” is. Instead we need to dare to reach out our hands and touch each other as a signal of “here you go” or saying “now I am coming closer”. 

— So how can we know how much coffee or tea we can pour into our mugs? We all ask in a choir. 

Markus explains that the easiest way to measure the amount of liquid being poured into the cups is by touching the surface with the finger. However, when I touch the surface of the milk I have poured into my coffee cup, the milk has already slopped over. Half of it is on the table. Oops. 

A few minutes later I also realise that my right sleeve is soaked in lactose-free milk. Oops again. In order to clear my mess I need to ask Markus for a tissue, which he hands over gently on my left-hand side. 

Eventually we get some oval small boxes of spices to move around the table. It tickles in my nose while I stifle a sneeze. 

— This smells like cinnamon bun, Velodz says on my right hand side. 

We are excitingly discussing whether it is cardamom or not coming up next. I am convinced that one of the spices going around the table is ginger, and thereby I got the nickname ginger around the table. I catch myself feeling immensely frustrated when no one else can confirm my guess. Maybe it was ginger, maybe it was something else. 

Letting Go

Walking towards the entrance out of the café I feel a bit braver. Velodz too, so we walk by ourselves this time. Stepping outside of the café is slightly shocking, as it strikes me that the light is so bright. It almost hurts the eyes.

German Kathi Stichnothe, who has an internship at German school in Helsinki, has visited a dark room café and a museum before in Germany. 

— This was different. In Germany we were doing a city tour in the dark and afterwards we were drinking. Now it was strange because we came into the dark and ate straightaway. It was like “I need to find myself in the dark”. It was difficult again, says Stichnothe. 

According to Chantal Spann from Dortmund in Germany, the tastebuds were different in the dark. 

— Right away when we came in we could smell the cinnamon bun. It felt stronger in the dark, Spann says. 

Madeleine Hoefnagels, who studies Humanities at Helsinki university, has lived in Helsinki since January. She is a board member of the Erasmus Student Network Uni Helsinki and describes it as an organisation that makes students happy. 

— It makes it easier for the students, because they come here and don’t know what they actually want to do in Helsinki, apart from going to sauna and building a snowman and that is where ESN comes in, says Hoefnagels. Photo: Sandra Broborn

Earlier this year ESN visited Lapland and an international sits (fancy dinner) is approaching. Some of the students participate regularly in the events and some have come to this event for the first time.

After my visit to the Pimé café I can only conclude that the coffe session in the dark certainly was un unforgettable experience.

Iris Pimé Café

Where: At the Iiris centre in Marjaniementie 74

How: You will be guided through the coffe experience with the help of the staff, who are all visually impaired.

When: It is open for private bookings and the café usually arranges open cafés every month, where people can visit without making a pre-booking.

Sandra Broborn är Studentbladets redaktör hösten 2021-våren 2022. Hon är journalist och innehållsproducent med en bakgrund inom kulturantropologi. Hon har en fäbless för att låta undangömda fenomen lysa i nytt ljus.

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