Tactile The World
1: How It All Began
CORNWALL, ONTARIO, CANADA
Fall of 2009
Snow was piling up inch by inch on the ground in front of my father’s house in Cornwall and the heat was cranked up to a whole another level. I was sweating in my fleece pyjamas, but as soon as I would set out the door in the freezing December weather, I would shiver a 4.0 on the Richter scale. I dreaded winters as they came and went, rejoiced when springtime rolled around the corner. Despite being a Canadian, I hated wintertime – my body didn’t react well to Jack Frost and his white wonderland. My joints would lock up and I’d shiver so badly that I became so uncomfortable walking, sleeping or sitting. After living in Africa for some time during the span of sixteen months, I acknowledged that my body functioned better in warm weather.
Trying my darnedest to stay warm, I wished I would be somewhere warm. The Southern Hemisphere would be warm this time of the year, I thought. I recalled how my plan to travel to Taipei, Taiwan for the 2009 Deaflympics fell through due to budget problems, and if it had worked out I would have been in Cambodia by now, sitting outside in warm weather, on a green patch of lush grass in the valleys of Kampot. Each day that passed during the fall I thought about where I wanted to go, what to see. I was still determined to see more of the world before all of my sight went, but as the darkness of fall nights came earlier, my hopes dimmed more.
Admittedly, I suffer from Seasonal Affectual Disorder (S.A.D.), becoming mildly depressed during the dark seasons. By staying at home with my father in a small, inaccessible town with nearly no Deaf friends in the area, I felt melancholy most days. I was home because of the Taipei trip not working out, and because I wanted to take care of my ailing father. He has a few health problems, and having his daughter around seemed to brighten up his days. Every night I went to sleep, I dreamed of travelling – to Asia, India, Antarctica, underwater and space. I wanted to be anywhere but here.
Early November came with a warm surprise and the weather wasn’t that cold as it was, historically. Dad knew I wanted to travel, see more of the world, and surprised me with a weeklong trip to Republicana Dominicana with my two friends – Sarah and Denise – for my early 30th birthday. That trip injected something fercocious in my, and I got my second wind. At the end of the trip, I was determined to pull myself out of my SAD and get out there.
With no time to spare, I made a powerpoint with all the places I’d wanted to see and experience before I went completely blind, and made connections with people I knew in New Zealand, Cambodia, China, Japan and India. One notion was that I’d give some kind of lecture or workshop for the Deaf associations and development centers, and that would make for inspiration and fundraising. I sent many packages out to charity organizations with the powerpoint, and emailed hundreds of people with the powerpoint. Weeks passed and no word, no donation.
It didn’t look good. Even to that point where I had to think of a Plan B. What would I do for the remainder of the brutal winter? Stay cooped up in the house, more depressed than ever? Volunteer with Voluntary Services Overseas again? Find temporary work somewhere until the summer? I didn’t like the first and last option – so I went ahead and printed out an application for VSO in case.
Then the miracle came.
A fellow freespirit and wanderer, Kevin, emailed me to tell me he wanted to visit me in Cornwall. He just landed in the States from a two month long stay in Taiwan after the Deaf Olympics, and a cross country train trip from Eastern Europe through Russia to China before that. Kevin, a Deaf man in his mid-30s had just finished school and thought he’d forge ahead and spend time travelling the world. And he chose the tiny hamlet of Cornwall, a paper factory town with a river separating Ontario from the New York State border. More than happy to have a friend visit, I welcomed him with open arms. I would make sure he felt right at home, well-rested and well-fed before he jetted off to Europe, continuing his travels.
As the week went past, Kevin told me he wanted to see me fly. Be a freespirit again. He mused that I was like a caged bird, unable to fly and be who I was. With a melancholy look, I agreed. I wasn’t free, and I felt suffocated.
He asked me when I wanted to go to New Zealand. ‘Maybe before Christmas,’ I said. Then he dragged me up to the guest room where he opened up a travel booking site. He typed in ‘Ottawa to New Zealand’. My mouth gaped in shock and uneasiness.
‘What’s going on, Kevin? What are you doing?’ I stammered. I could not afford this. I was living on provincial disability support payments and it was not enough to travel to a far away country like New Zealand by air.
‘I’m going to buy the one-way ticket for you, Coco. I want to see you happy, doing what you do best – inspiring people and being an extraordinary person. You’re stuck here, but you shouldn’t be. So this is my gift. You’re going to New Zealand’, Kevin beamed.
‘No way. Seriously? Oh my god.’ I hugged him. But secretly, I dreaded the moment when a glitch would happen, just like it did with the airline ticket I had booked for Taipei. It had been declined at the last minute due to a faulty credit card. So I didn’t want to pin my hopes up on the same website Kevin was making the booking on, not until I had the absolute confirmation that I was going.
Then the email came.
Ms. Christine Roschaert
Vermont – Los Angeles – Fiji – New Zealand
Then the next chapter of my life began.