Do you think that it is difficult
to collect shells? Do you belong to a shell club that is way too
small? Would you like to see more activities? Or worse, perhaps
you know only a few friends who collect shells but not enough
to have your own shell club? A friend of mine lives in Brasilia
where there is only one other collector and he says it sucks!
But what if you are probably the only shell collector in the entire
to shell collecting
Yes, we met a very special collector:
Markus Niiranen from Finland. He came to our office and spent
a couple of days checking out our stock. He is 22 years old and
came to Brazil on vacation with a friend, stayed a few days in
Fortaleza and came down to São Paulo just to meet us, which
was a big honor.
Did I mention that he is a special
collector? He had surgery when he was 2 years old, which made
him completely blind. Shells for him are not just a matter of
beauty but a new world of shapes and textures. While in my office,
he wanted to check nearly everything and I handed him all possible
shells, except those way too small.
This experience caused me to also
start looking at shells in a different way since I had to find
for him extreme variations while ignoring the visual effect of
colors. Have you tried closing your eyes and feeling your shells?
If not, I suggest you do that; it is a very nice sensation. Of
course, Markus has a much better tactile experience and he is
probably able to describe a shell much better than most people
It was amazing to see how he reacted
to many different species. And again, I was surprised to learn
that his preferred family is Cypraeidae! If anyone had asked me
if it would be possible to love this family without seeing it,
I would probably say no. But he was able to distinguish species
only by touching them. So, one more "magical" reason
Cypraeas are by far the most wanted shells among all families.
Markus uses a special notebook computer
with a Braille machine attached to it. He is very fast using the
computer and is able to do most things we usually do, including
visiting websites. We changed the settings on his notebook so
that he could use my broadband Internet connection. While he was
working on his computer, I checked mine to see what needed changing.
I must concede that he was faster than I was.
I always say shell collecting is
not just a matter of having something nice locked inside drawers
for your own appreciation ("My precious!"). Shell collecting
is about enjoying nature, acquiring culture, traveling to new
places and most important, meeting interesting people. Our lives
have revolved around shells since we were kids. During all this
time, we met hundreds of shell collectors and most of them became
our friends. When we think we now know it all, a new collector
comes from a very distant place and teaches us much more!
P.S. You can read about another
renowned blind shell scientist, Geerat Vermeij who was born in
Holland and teaches evolutionary geology at U.C. Davis in California.
English check by John