A Little Coklyat and a Dash of Gibran
Sometimes, a quote can just say all you need in one line, “For even those who limp, go not backwards.”, written by Khalil Gibran. I come from a family of quote lovers. My dad, “Success is 1% inspiration and 200% perspiration.” He’d write them down and then put them up around the apartment. To inspire himself and me and my brother. As an adult, I found my own, and used them sometimes in my art and of course on Myspace many moons ago but now enjoy getting my own thoughts out there more. The one I’ve added here, inspired a painting which you can see below. While I know the “limp” is a metaphor, it does make me think of my own actual limp. People point it out, I notice it more while walking with others. There’s a ton of other reasons I move a tad more slowly through the world, but the limp I have always makes me think of this quote. More than ever, I am using it as a mantra. My fellow Fulbright scholars may be moving more swiftly than me or others may be acclimating to a huge life change like this more quickly, but I remind myself, “Hey, you are still moving forward.” This journey is like taking a huge leap at full speed and I don’t know if there will be a safe place to land when I get to the other side. It’s up to me to make that space safe, I suppose. Baby steps, baby steps…
Fear and Stalling in Jersey City
It was departure day, and I was dazed, anxious and yeah, excitement was breaking through here and there. I kept thinking to myself, “You should JUST be excited.” The day of our flight, Mike and I got up, picked up some Dunkin Donuts for what would bathe last time in a long while. Everything felt strange. I was getting all these messages saying “Goodbye!” and “Good luck!”. My brother- in law, Matt called about an hour before we were planning to scoot over to his parent’s place. He was already on his way over and asked if he could come by to give me a proper send off. It stands out as a particular nice gesture. While he is not usually the sort to be overly expressive, this case was different. Maybe that’s why it stands out. We have gotten along so well over these past seven years, and I always have appreciated his sweet considerate nature. We gave each other such a warm hug, the kind you give where you really feel the love. He really has become like a brother to me.
Robotically, I got in the car and Mike drove us to his parent’s house in the suburbs of Jerz. Luckily, we could leave the car there till Mike came back in a week. When we got there, Pat, my mother- in law had prepared a lovely little spread of snacky types of food. Cheeses, olives, crackers and hummus. Mind you, this was just put out for us to fortify against the airplane travel. You should see her at it for the high food holidays! The place settings were quite cute, complete with a napkin in the center of the plate which read, “Love.” Along with my father-in law, we all hung out for about an hour or so. As it got closer to our time to leave, Mike gave me a five-minute warning. I groaned. While I wanted this new experience, I didn’t want to leave all of my people. After my one last stall, which included asking Pat to help me paint over my chipped blue nails, I was ready to go.
Pat drove us over to good old Newark Airport. I gave her a big hug…a couple of times. Now, stuff just got real. Airport mode was switched on, no time to have feelings. Something we discovered in one of our stressful bouts of travel, is that most airports will provide a service to help disabled passengers. Praise the disability gods, they hath smiled down upon us in this! Before we knew of this, managing the gauntlet of the airport, even with Mike’s help was extremely difficult. No one in an airport is thinking of anyone else but themselves and there is bumping, pushing on top of Mike also trying to ensure we get to where we need to go while also making sure I don’t flop over someone’s Away luggage. Let’s not even get into the whole TSA shenanigans. So, off we went with our Newark Airport Gandalf, me being pushed in a wheelchair as per their suggestion. We maneuvered mush more easily through this goat rodeo. At one point, an Orc tried to cut in front of us and Newark Gandalf was totally all, “You shall not pass!”. My favorite part of this fellowship was when this one TSA person asked Mike, “Can she walk?” (pointing at me). He responded firmly to them with, “Why don’t you ask her?”. Yes! My husband knows, he really gets it…UGH, missing that guy. Anyways, getting back to the story. They asked, I get up and walk through the metal detector. We move on to the next trial of travel.
Relaxed as we could be in this situation, we take our seats near the gate. I jokingly start to make a run for it, but Mike grabs me and chuckles, saying, “It’s too late!”. Hmm, it is “to late” but it’s also just the beginning. There is still so much ahead. I’ve traveled a good amount, but being gone for ten months felt almost unbearable. In the movies, the person who’s leaving usually only has a one -minute scene where they take a deep breath before they get on a plane to embark on a new chapter of life. I make one last phone call to my brother, Andre and he is also both very excited for me and a little sad. We are very close, close like plane crash survivors. Last I saw him and my nieces, I was a blubbering hot mess. Why did my little nibling have to look up at me with her big beautiful eyes like that? Her look definitely said, “you’re going to miss me learning to walk!”. Will the first words she says to me be, “You suck.”? Quite possibly. I told you all that babies were dangerous.
Can a Girl Just Get a Portkey?
Last time I flew with Air Lingus, I was deeply impressed with the flight staff. I even asked one flight attendant if they received special training as to how to help disabled passengers. They were a little mystified at this question, and was kind of like, “No, we just know how to treat people like human beings. “. I was expecting the same deal this time around. No such luck. Maybe they were all very tired or had had a particularly bad flight before ours. One flight attendant asked me, “Chicken or beef? and I had just woken up from my nap and was like, “Umm…” And again, more sharply they demanded, “Chicken or BEEF”. Bleary eyed, I just said beef since it was first in alphabetical order. Later, I went to the bathroom using my white cane, and while I can’t see much I can clock where the flight attendants are. I was struggling to find the bathroom and to open it and then I see they were just chilling with each other right near me. I was in the bathroom and couldn’t find the button to flush, I began pushing several different buttons, including the emergency one of course. “Oh no! “I thought, I don’t want them to worry and come knocking and make a bid deal. Not to worry though, no one was paying attention. I walk out and one of the flight attendants, who was right there asked me, “Are you okay?”. I told her, “yes, but no thanks to you.” I said this not realizing I had my shirt tucked in oddly just at the front top of my pants. The previous flight I had flown with Air Lingus included a hen party, a stag party and a handful of soccer hooligans and he flight attendants manage to be more helpful than this flight. This was before they had to get on the intercom and reprimand some folks for shouting at each other. I thought, “Maybe don’t give them anymore Jamison?”
Later, getting off the plane, we had expected another person with a wheelchair to be waiting for us to help us get through all the things. When we stepped off the plane, it turned out that someone had rolled off with the wheelchair that was designated for me. Okay then, that’s a new one, I thought to myself. We were the very last people to get off and now the flight attendants were exiting. As I just finished saying, “I hope we can get someone else to help. “chicken or beef” strolls by and skeptically says, “Good luck.” Under their breath but loud enough for us to hear. Yikes! Now, this was all more of an inconvenience, and all in all, I just had to wade through some unexpected rudeness. There are many, many, MANY stories of disabled people traveling and their wheelchairs being damaged or even destroyed. Most of us worry about the possibility of losing our luggage, but imagine if you lost your wheelchair? This is a reality that each person using a wheelchair on a flight has to concern themselves with.
Reinforcements arrive and Paul, our lovely Irish guide person turns our frowns upside down. Paul had been an airport mechanic and now that they had less work in that area, they had them helping out in other ways. To Mike’s delight, he dissuaded us from trying to make any little trip on our eight-hour layover. The one nice flight attendant had suggested checking out a historic castle 20 minutes way. I was very interested, Mike was not. We went right from the kind flight attendant suggesting ancient glorious castles to Paul asking us, “you’re not the types who are going to try and get out to see something are ya?”. Fine Paul. Fair enough.
To Have and to Carry, in Travel and in Health
I’ll say, nothing tests a relationship, of any kind, more than spending over 24 hours together straight. Add in an eight-hour layover in an airport, and you deserve a couple buttered scones…with jam. We kept each other laughing, and not a smidgen of an argument erupted. We each grabbed a pint of Guinness at Slaney’s in the Dublin Airport. Later, we would order our breakfast there. Mike hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane, so he was really struggling with his brain grapes. When he came back with our Guinness, three Irish folks took a look at our pints and said, “I’ve never seen that before! “and You left without letting the bartender top you off?”. The encouraged Mike to go back and get “a proper pint”. They were a jovial bunch and I told them that Mike was incredibly exhausted and he was usually very up on bar protocol. When Mike came back with properly administered Guinness, the trio erupted with, “there you go! “Now you have it.” And “That’s a proper pint.”
Eight hours passed, we were now officially zombies and another helper person conceiver to guide us. His Irish accent was a bit different than most we had heard, and we had to really focus to really understand what he was saying. He asked what I would be Doing in the Czech Republic. I explained that I would be working on access in the arts for people who were disabled. He seemed to appreciate this answer and said, “It’s good to get disabled people out doing anything.” I wasn’t sure how to take that part. Was he saying “anything” like, they don’t do much so “anything would be good?” or was he saying simply the it’s good to have disabled people out doing “anything”? With the subtext that, there isn’t enough out there?
In the Land of Beer, Goulash and Cobblestones!
I slept almost the whole way to Prague and when we were getting ready to land, Mike was like, “Quick flight, huh? Anxiety crept up on me again, we’ve made it to the Czech Republic, everything I knew was almost 4, 000 miles away. We walked off the plane and I wasn’t offered a wheelchair in the Czech Republic. I was drained and didn’t feel like making waves, and not to mention our new Czech guide spoke little English and I spoke even less Czech. He did immediately pick up my heavy backpack and trot forward. Alright, Ivan! (That’s what I named him.). Mike was on the hunt for a wheelchair since he knew it would make things easier and when he saw one, he pointed it out to Ivan. Ivan was a little confused but grabbed it. I sat down and lightly placed his VERY heavy backpack on my lap. I groaned playfully, “Woah, this is heavy!”. Ivan understood that and chuckled. We made a bee-line to get out into the Prague air. No problems with baggage – miracles of miracles! I would be very sad if I lost those purple knitted socks my friend, Mel had knitted me! Whew!!
Mike and I got into an Uber fairly easily, and off we went to our hotel. As we made our way closer to the city center, familiar historic buildings and nearly magical sights came into hazy focus. The Charles Bridge, the giant Prague Castle, the Academy of Arts and so on. The driver dropped us off on a cobble stone (the only kind here in Prague) side street of the hotel. We unloaded all of the baggage and settled up with the driver. Mike asked me to wait on the side street so he could locate our hotel. He came back around and said to me, “you won’t believe where our hotel is?!”. I had no idea and so when we rounded the corner and he exclaimed, “Its right by the NYU building!”, I was feeling many things. Joy mixed with relief filled me just for simply knowing where I was. This area was familiar because I had spent almost everyday of last June right by this building during my NYU Global Research Initiative fellowship. I felt grateful to Mike for not only getting us here smoothly but for remaining good natured with only a slight bit of grumpiness at hour 26. He is magic. A feeling of being in the right place at the right time washed over me. I do believe in signs and good omens and all that stuff…you can’t argue with my results!
Our hotel, Hotel Rott (pronounced Root), is built upon original foundations going back to the 16th century. It would be impossible to throw a rock in Prague’s Old Town Square without hitting something with at least two hundred years more history than you’re used to. Twenty-six hours later, in one of the most beautiful and historically preserved cities in Europe, all we wanted to do was take a NAP. And, that is just what we did.