Monday, 6 March 2017

Journey to NOAH CON 2016 : Country Mouse and the Steel City

It's actually taken me this long to be able to write about my NOAHCON 2016 experience. Let's begin from the beginning; the day I woke up in a foreign country as a visually impaired person, about to travel solo for the first time in my life. I must admit, I was really brave up till that point of waking up on the day of my flight. When you get that close to a dream I think that you achieve a weird kind of clarity. It's like standing at the edge of a cliff and realising juuuuust how blue water is, just how big the ocean, just how deep is deep.

Suddenly my excitement was fear. My big opportunity was a brimming panic...but I was going anyway. I had decided this months ago, come what may, I was going anyway, in blind faith I am going anyway.

My mother, aunt and myself took the bus to the airport...when we eventually got it. We couldn't get the bus necessary to take us straight to the airport because we had no change (not me my visually impaired self was so prepared) and when we did get the change the bus was mysteriously delayed. I wasn't bothered, I was going anyway, remember? I'm repeating that because that was my 2016 mantra and truly helped get me there!

When we finally got there my mother and aunt, ever helpful got me to the line, filled out the necessary paperwork so that I wouldn't have eye strain so early in my trip and sent me on my way, thinking they had helped me with all i needed and it was all good.

It was not all good. My family had the best intentions. I appreciated their help so very very much. Especially the not having to deal with eye strain part. Here is the thing, when it's hectic the visually impaired sometimes get forgotten. You are so caught up in making sure they have it that you forget to orient them. So this is what I learned in this moment, don't forget the importance of instructions. Oral instruction, include them in the how not just the done because you wont always be there but I will

Oh and if you're visually impaired, appreciate the people who help you, even when they help too much, it's because they don't have any formal training. Remember, we're all figuring this out together. It's up to you to make it clear what are your limits.

The airport of JFK is very large, especially for a small island girl who is visually impaired and never travelled on her own. I spent 50 minutes STRAIGHT running towards my gate after my family left me. 50 minutes trying to figure out what airport signs meant that I was seeing for the first time. Now let me explain, when you are a visually impaired person sometimes their are little things you miss...things that people have a point of reference for that you don't get because you don't grow up seeing it. Airport signs I missed in real life and in movies because I was too busy trying to remember bigger I don't know faces and places?

In retrospect it was not that hard, certainly not as hard as my return trip to New York but that's a story for another day. I read signs that I could see, used my monocular when I could not see them well. Road machines I don't have in my country LONG distances. Thank you JFK for having large print and clearly distinguishable directional signs! Saved my heart!

I got to my gate and pretended to be super calm while wondering if I did it right, if I was at the right gate. I think I only asked the very kind airport staff twice, TWICE as opposed to the two thousand times I wondered in my head if I got it right. Fun fact: one of those airport personnel was from my island, thanks for the love Jesus! I succeed at calm and after sitting at my gate for all of two minutes in anxiousness my plane showed up and I found myself running down to it.

Of course there was the other nightmare of having to ask for help to find my seat in the plane. Which I did despite embarrassing feelings because whatever choice is there? Get it done. Be upfront about the things you need. Ask for help when you have to ask for help.

The air-plane people were kind and helped, I found my seat. Then we sat there because it rained and we had to find an alternative route. Now, I had organised to meet up with my friend Mike, who I kind of think of as my ANNOYING American older cousin with albinism.  You know, that's one cousin who tells you to look over there and then steals your food? Or the one who tells all the cute boys that you don't speak English? We met online years ago, along with most of my friends with albinism. He had not been to the conference in years. He decided to go. We were going to arrive at the airport around the same time so my none American self could figure out how to get to my hotel. (No I could not take an uber but he could so we did, more on that later.) 

Back to me sitting in my tiny but comfortable plane after running to it for the last 50 minutes. Then just sitting there, waiting for it to stop raining and hoping I could find Mike when I got off plane. You know, Mike my visually impaired friend? Who I, the visually impaired girl who had never met this visually impaired friend in person was trying to find in a foreign country for the first time?

He did end up texting me and letting me know that his flight was delayed also ( such an undercover gentlemen when Jesus is on my side ) we ended up getting there minutes apart from each other.  

Fun fact: There was a dinosaur exhibit at the Pittsburgh airport that had me mesmerised for a second before Mike walked me through using the airport train, another thing we do not have where I am from, to find him. I bravely did as I needed to without looking like come-rob-me-bait (a genuine concern of mine) and then blatantly ignored Mike when I found him so I could update my instagram followers because I HAD MADE IT BABY! Your girl was so excited to be alive in Pittsburgh un-robbed and un-deported!

He was getting an uber so I don't think he minded too much.  After letting my mother know I was still alive in a foreign county she promptly asked to speak to Mike to and I quote 'tell him to make sure he take care of much Chile!' Loudly she said this in my ear. I assume in his too for after that there was much 'Yes ma'am...yes ma'am. I will treat her like one of my own.' (He did, see? Undercover gentlemen) 

We got the uber, had a lovely chat with our driver and then I busied my self marvelling at the reality that I made it safely. I was in Pittsburgh. I was going to the 2016 NOAH Conference. It's happening.

When we got to the hotel Mike had a good laugh at me as I approached the revolving doors as though it were a loaded gun  ( they were my first revolving doors don't judge me I've seen every final destination movie ) then taught me the trade secrets (always push from the right) I pushed. I stared. I marvelled. I believed.

I was so worried I'd run into some issue with the hotel due to my tourist self.  It went fine.

To be continued
My trip to the NOAH Conference 2016 was made possible by sponsorship from: The Writers Association of Grenada, Kallalou Designs, The Office of the Prime Minister and various good Samaritans who insist upon not being named.

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