2: Expect The Unexpected
December 16 – 22
Whenever I’d fly out to any American city, I would cross the border from Ontario, Canada to Burlington, Vermont and fly out. It was so much cheaper – by hundreds of dollars – to fly out domestically than internationally. But of course, there was an even better reason to visit Burlington, a mere 2 ½ hours away from Cornwall, and that was to visit my dear friend Keri and her young family. I always enjoyed the time I spent with her and her husband, both Deaf, and their two adorable young sons, who are hearing. The oldest, Lochlan, is an expressive boy at four, signing in American Sign Language and is even cuter when he attempts to use Tactile with me when I cannot understand his tiny signing. Kalle, at only 13 months old, knows some signs – fish, touchdown and Papa, among others. Their house, situated in the Northern Vermont mountains, was a solitary retreat for me – to be amongst nature and friends. It was a bonus there was a hot tub, too. Even with snow there, I felt better – it was a true winter wonderland.
I flew in Los Angeles from Burlington on the 16th of December, with great anticipation for a more warmer weather and Mexican food and tactiling with my college pals. Warmer weather, by ten degrees Fahrenheit more, was a welcoming feeling to my body. I could wear a thin long sleeved jacket in the evenings and just a t-shirt in the daytime.
My college pal, Salatiel, picked me up from the airport. I was exchanged to him by this airport assistance patron who had escorted me from the gate to the baggage area. I wore a purple pin with large yellow print words: DEAF & LOW-VISION, so that people would understand why I used a cane and still could see somewhat, but with no hearing at all.
Once I got to Sal’s home, the aroma of freshly cooked El Salvadoran food wafted in the air. He remembered my favourite Latino meal, and told his mother – a refugee from El Salvador during their civil war – to whip me up some authentic spicy chile rellenos. I was in taste-bud heaven.
Sal works at an inner-city public school that housed a very large (and unnoticeable, to me, at least) Deaf program with 150 Angeleno kids, in the junior and high school levels. It was the last day of school before the holiday break began, and the Deaf kids at Marlton School celebrated with baked goods, small novelty gifts and a school formal dance in the afternoon. I had the honour of talking to the grade seven and eight classes that Sal taught, about my Deafblindhood, the travels I did and why I advocate for educational and social rights for Deaf and Deafblind people. These kids were really sweet and inquisitive, asking me how much I could see, why I decided to travel, where my home is, and what I would do with my life.
I have done this kind of thing, speaking at schools like Marlton, for the past 3 years and it’s easily one of the best places for me to come. These kids just crave learning. And in turn, I know that future generations of Deafblind people, and the older ones, too, would be in the company of these kids who learned that Deafblind people were just as capable as the sighted people are, if they were empowered.
For a short and sweet weekend, I got out of the gigantic, smog-filled and interesting city of Los Angeles for the quieter, barren area of Riverside, California – a mere hour’s drive away, to meet up with some college friends I hadn’t seen in quite a while. I love travelling to places and meeting up with old faces and talking about old times and the future, and knowing that they are doing well for themselves in the present.
Not long left until I fly to New Zealand, Sal and his friend, Gus, wanted to give me a quickie tour of what Los Angeles’ most popular tourist spots had to offer. In Sal’s Japanese car, his pride, they took me to visit Griffith Park and its observatory (what a trip, seeing such a vast city in its lighted splendor with an eerie sky fitting for Armageddon), Sunset Boulevard, the Walk of Fame (I laid my cane beside Ray Charles’ star; did a mini moonwalk on Michael Jackson’s; said “I Kiss Fist You” in sign language to the star bearing Marlee Matlin’s name) and took a little tour outside of Grauman Theatre, Kodak Theatre and the Scientology Temple. The tour ended well into the wee hours of the night and it was a great way to end my trip in Los Angeles.
On December 22, I packed up my belongings and waited for Shmuel to pick me up to have coffee and chat before the airport. LAX was only 15 minutes away, so we thought it’d be fine to arrive at around 7:30pm. My flight leaves at 9:30pm, so I would have two hours to get my ticket and bags checked in before I flew out of the city of angels.
What could go wrong went wrong.
When I got to the Air Pacific counter, I showed my passport and pointed to my large Deuter World Traveler backpack as the item to check in. The agent looked at the screen and immediately looked grim. She was already a stone-cold, unfazed person when I arrived, but only became more of that, with a scowl on her face.
‘Do you have a ticket out of New Zealand,’ she wrote in black marker.
I shook my head no, and wondered why. My plan was to get to New Zealand, give my lecture, and raise funds to get to Cambodia then buy the one-way ticket with that money.
‘Well, then, you can’t go.’ She wrote, almost coldly.
What on earth? I looked at Shmuel in shock. He was as surprised as I was, and my mood shifted into being concerned that this trip, like I had predicted when Kevin bought the ticket online, wasn’t going to happen.
‘Can you tell me other options, ma’am?’ I wrote, hoping my diplomatic attitude would lighten her up and she’d ease into informing me of my options with a smile. But no, she wrote in hard, big scrawls: ‘without a return ticket, you cannot go. It’s the policy with New Zealand immigration. Please buy a return ticket to Los Angeles, and now.’
I was not going to return to Los Angeles in January. I had my dreams and heart set on being in Cambodia, to work with Ronise on our special project for the Deafblind people of that country.
‘Ma’am, I don’t intend to return here. Can’t you call Immigration and explain my situation? I am going to buy my ticket in New Zealand as soon as funds come in’. I protested.
She shook her head and gave me an annoyed glare.
I gestured, Come on.
‘Go to Eva Air and see if you can get a ticket for Cambodia from Auckland, then return here with the proof. Then we’ll let you board the flight to Fiji’ she wrote, and there was only 30 minutes left until the check-in baggage deadline. Was I going to make it?
Shmuel and I rushed to Eva Air ticket counter, but there were seemingly hundreds of Asians lined up. Christmas holiday travel never was this annoying to me until now. But luck showed up, a ticket attendant with Eva saw my cane and approached me, guided me to the counter – bypassing the hundreds of people. It helps to be disabled, sometimes.
We looked into flights from Auckland to Phnom Penh for January, but they said they only sell tickets for flights from Los Angeles to Cambodia. Damn.
We ran back to Air Pacific and broke the bad news. The grumpy woman was replaced by four staff members, a delicate situation this was. My ticket wasn’t refundable, and it was going to be hard if I wanted to change my ticket.
‘If you buy a ticket from Auckland to Sydney, Australia, right now, it’s 300 US Dollars. If you buy that now, you can go to Fiji.’ One man wrote.
I stammered. I stalled. I fumbled. I remembered I only had $800 in my bank account, for the entire month of January. Not for December, mind you. If I bought this ticket, I would continue to New Zealand, but I would be a little more broke for January. Worth the risk?
I remembered I had friends in Melbourne, Brisbane and maybe Sydney. I had thought it would be cool to visit the Outback and see kangaroos, but never have I thought at this moment it would be reality.
So I went ahead and emptied half of my bank account to buy a one-way ticket to Australia, guaranteeing my flight to New Zealand.
Whew. Just in the nick of time. The prospect of going to Oz was exciting! Once I get to New Zealand, I’d have to figure out how to survive Australia for 2 weeks and how to get to Cambodia. It won’t be easy but with luck, chance, prayers, love and maybe donations, it could happen.
After hugging Shmuel goodbye, the Air Pacific flight attendant on standby grabbed my arm, and we ran towards the security checkpoint. We passed, then scurried like two little mice towards the ever aromatic cheese, and when we got to the gate – we savored the taste of freedom. I was enroute to Nadi, Fiji Islands, at 9:30pm.
Holding my ticket to Australia, and seated in 31H, I chuckled and thought to myself: expect the unexpected.