Zuzana Habáňová: The World Is as Colourful as You Make It

Zuzana Habáňová: The World Is as Colourful as You Make It

Zuzana Habáňová led a completely normal life until she was twenty-eight. Despite suffering from severe diabetes since childhood, she completed her degree and got a job in Prague. Then everything changed, but she refused to take her situation lying down. Find out more about her extraordinary story of courage.

6. 12. 2018 Lifestyle People

Zuzana had always been very energetic, spending most of her free time in the country with her dog. Suddenly, she felt her sight deteriorating rapidly. It started with blurred vision at night and ended in suspenseful surgery. “There often comes a time when long-time diabetics start to have other health problems. With their eyes, for example. So I had some idea of what was going on. It’s natural, though, to you tell yourself it’s not happening to you,” she remembers.

She was shocked when the doctor told her that she had a stark choice of surgery or the risk of going completely blind within a year. And yet she decided to hope for the best. Everything changed in 2007. She was at home watching TV, when she saw a river of blood spilling before her very eyes. “A blood vessel in my eye broke. It was frightening,” she describes.


Zuzana Habáňová

Zuzana had an operation on her left eye, but the blood vessels were so damaged that there was bleeding during surgery and she went blind in her left eye. She could still see with her right eye, but without undergoing a second risky operation she was almost certain to lose her sight completely. “The year before the second operation was awful. Though I am naturally cheerful and optimistic, I hated the whole world at that time,” she says. The only thing that kept her going was her dog.


A new beginning

Zuzana had her second eye operation on her thirtieth birthday. When the surgeon subsequently came to take the patch off, she was very nervous. “I saw nothing in focus, just this light and some outlines. But then the doctor waved her hand in front of my face, and I saw some movement, and she told me that the surgery had been a success! It was like being reborn. I had this incredible desire to start living again,” says Zuzana, whose sight is now only about 15%. She has tubular vision and sees the world as though through a fish tank full of water. This is due to the silicone oil protecting her eye blood vessels.

Zuzana’s choice of words is succinct – she was indeed “reborn” in that she had to learn everything again, including walking. Occasionally, before she was willing to admit to everyone around her that she was severely sight-impaired by using a white cane, she was accused of being drunk. “I spent a lot of time watching drastic documentaries because they made me realise how blessed I was and that I actually have a wonderful life. Somewhere inside, though, I felt that it wasn’t enough, and that I needed to experience some adventure of my own,” she says, adding another dimension to her efforts to change her mindset.


The journey is the destination

As we all know, sometimes the stars align. One day, out of the blue, an old friend wrote to Zuzana. He had just finished studying medicine, wanting to go travelling for a month, he asked her if she wanted to accompany him. Zuzana said yes. It wasn’t until they got to the airport, ready to fly to Thailand, that he realised just how serious a problem she had with her sight. “It was only the second time in my life that I’d flown. Plus I found out that I would have to return from Bangkok alone. My body started tingling pleasantly all over, and I realised this was what I’d been looking for,” she says. The full force of how life-changing this was hit her when she was sitting on a beach listening to parrots and breathing in the heady scents of the Far East, which were more intense than ever before.


Next was a holiday in Kos, then a trip to India that she planned herself. She took a friend with her (who had never travelled anywhere), made all the necessary arrangements, and together they went off to discover southwest India. She took another friend to Turkey, specifically to Kurdistan, where she liked it so much that she returned a year later, this time alone. “Muslim countries are really amazing. The people are so nice and kind there. I really loved the time I spent with the Kurds. Thanks to a Kurdish friend, I managed to visit Iraq and, later, also Iran, but that’s a different story,” Zuzana says enthusiastically. Few would guess that this fragile, blind brunette travelled through Iran as a couch-surfer. She did not pay for a single hotel over the entire seventeen-day trip and, thanks to the hospitality of the locals, gained 5 kilograms.


No money? No matter

For the past four years, Zuzana’s travelling companion has been her boyfriend. Though they live on a shoestring, they have learnt to live so modestly that a lack of money does not stop them from going on adventures whenever they feel like it. “I would never have imagined how little you need to live here. When I was employed, I wasted a lot of the money I earned completely unnecessarily. Now we spend very little. We save on food, we don’t go out, we don’t have a car – but flight tickets, I’ve always got my eye on those,” she says enthusiastically.


Besides discovering the world in this way, Zuzana also become a keen hiker. She and her father have been on walking trips in Santiago de Compostela and Rome, she has completed the Eagles’ Nests trail in Poland, and she has followed the Pilgrim’s Route from Lillehammer to Trondheim. Next year (2019), she is planning to complete the GR7, a long-distance footpath across Andalusia. Zuzana is a shining example of the fact that we alone set our limits. If life throws obstacles in our way, we can always overcome them if we want.

Photos from Zuzana’s archive:
from top left: Algarve (Portugal), Pilgrim’s Route (Norway), and Rajasthan (India); from bottom left: Batad (Philippines), hitch-hiking to the Guča Trumpet Festival (Serbia), and Pilgrim’s Route (Norway)