Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hello British Airways? It's Blair from America.

From a recent trip to Kuwait, I came back home to see another cop dumping a disabled person out of their wheelchair while in a jail cell. I can’t figure out why this is the behavior law enforcement has towards searching an individual in a chair. When I go through security at the airport they don’t dump me out of my chair. But the process to the Gate is still archaic.

I arrived at JFK February 11th to fly to Kuwait. It was 5:30am and I approached the British Airways check-in counter. Rosemary was at the counter. She looked tired and withdrawn. Right away she asked me if I was alone. She asked if I could walk. She asked if I could take care of myself on the plane.

I am a paraplegic. Completely independent. So independent I don’t even identify with the issue. I just move around this partially accessible world my own way, minding my own business, until this peace is disrupted. This time by Rosemary.

She couldn’t understand what I meant when I said I couldn’t walk but I could transfer on my own. You see, on the BA website and from my own conversations and research with customer service, you don’t need medical clearance if you have a permanent injury and if you are independent physically. As long as you can manage on your own while on the plane-transferring yourself and using the rest-room yourself, you are allowed to fly without question. The airplane is equipped with an aisle chair and the flight attendants just have to push it to the bathroom for you and you transfer yourself. It took a few minutes and patience and also embarrassment for Rosemary to understand this. She reminded me that she had been working at JFK for over 25 years and this was news to her.

What was also news to Rosemary was allowing me to go through the security gate unescorted. After she finished checking me in she refused to let me go on to the gate until she checked with her supervisor. Not only is this embarrassing, but it is also limiting. She is making me dependent on her own ignorance. She said for insurance reasons I couldn’t go by myself. I told her politely, that I fly out of JFK a lot and I have never been told this. Ever. I asked if this person escorting me was to follow me around the airport? She said no, just through the Gate. I had to wait at the check-in desk while she walked across the lobby found another employee who had to radio to someone in an Ivory Tower and ask if this was true. She finally came back, and an “express check-in”, I had checked in online before coming to the airport, turned into an event. Or in respects theatre/performance art, a possible “Happening”.

I am really getting tired of this.

It is never the same procedure while checking-in. Ever. It is as if each employee has their own version of the rules and regulations, with no understanding or knowledge of the online rules and regulations while flying BA. And you can’t tell them that. Which was the case when I flew out of JFK in October of 2007 and the “supervisor”, a young man, told me that I couldn’t fly if I couldn’t go to the bathroom on my own, out loud in front of many passengers at the check-in desk. This also happened while checking-in for my BA flight back to London from Kuwait on February 17th. The woman at the front of the line asked me repeatedly if I could walk, if I needed help on the plane. I told her I needed no help transferring or in the ladies room, I just needed the aisle chair to get from my seat to the bathroom. She could not understand this for whatever reason and told me while I was checking-in to leave Kuwait that I wouldn’t be able to fly by myself because I couldn’t’ walk. It was policy. I told her this was incorrect. She said she had to check with her supervisor. While a young man was manually checking me in she got word from her supervisor and said I could fly by myself but she had to change my seat and she down-graded me all the way to the back of the plane.

You can’t argue too aggressively with these employees of BA because then they will have the ammunition to really not let you fly. So you have to calmly explain to them the rules and regulations. I feel when in these situations I have more understanding of their policy than they do.

Which was the case with Rosemary, her supervisor finally said I could go ahead by myself. So I did. Completely humbled. But this time also empowered. There is something here. An issue that needs to be resolved. Whether it’s training their employees at the Gate correctly and consistently, there is something here. Like the law enforcement officers dumping a quadriplegic out of his wheelchair, they must be held accountable and also as in Rosemary’s case trained properly so that this situation does not continue to happen.

What I fear most is that the lack of knowledge and training will manifest into a situation where human beings will make up their own rules because what exists now is far too grey. And that can become dangerous. Look at what has happened recently while in police custody. What they don't know can hurt us.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Mixed Ability in Place of DIS-Ability

The other night I was watching TV looking for someone in a wheelchair, some representation of my Social Group that was not being portrayed in an inspirational or stereotypical manner and I came across Season 2 (1960-61) Episode 42 “The Eye of the Beholder” on the TV Show "The Twilight Zone". I caught the end of the Episode. A woman’s face is bandaged heavily, she has just had surgery and the doctor and nurses are trying to prepare her for what she might see when the bandages come off and also the consequences of the surgery if not successful. In "Twilight Zone" Style you never see the Doctor or Nurse's face until the end. The following is the conversation between the Doctor and the female patient before he unwraps her bandages:

“Janet Tyler: Doctor? Doctor, may I walk outside? Please, may I? May I just go and sit in the garden? Just for a little while? Just, just to feel the air? Just to smell the flowers? Just, just to make believe I am normal? If I sit out there in the darkness, then the whole world is dark, and I'm more a part of it like that. Not just one grotesque, ugly woman with a bandage on her face, with a special darkness all her own. I want to belong. I want to be like everybody. Please, doctor. Please help me.
Dr. Bernardi: There are many others who share your misfortune. People who look much as you do. One of the alternatives, just in the event that this last treatment is not successful, is simply to allow you to move into a special area in which people of your kind have been congregated.
Janet Tyler: People of my kind congregated? You mean segregated! You mean imprisoned, don't you, Doctor? You're talking about a ghetto, aren't you? A ghetto designed for freaks!
Dr. Bernardi: Miss Tyler! Now, the state is not unsympathetic. Your presence here in this hospital is proof of that. It's doing all it can for you. But you're not being rational, Miss Tyler. Now you know you can't expect to live any kind of a life among normal people.
Janet Tyler: I could try. I could wear a mask or this bandage. I wouldn't bother anybody. I'd just go my own way. I'd get a job, any job. Who are you people anyway? What is this State? Who makes all these rules and conditions and statutes that people who are different have to stay away from the people who are normal? The State isn't God, Doctor.
Dr. Bernardi: Miss Tyler, please.
Janet Tyler: The State is not God! It hasn't the right to penalize somebody for an accident of birth! It hasn't the right to make ugliness a crime!
Dr. Bernardi: Miss Tyler! Miss Tyler, stop this immediately!
Janet Tyler: I feel the night out there. I feel the air. I can smell the flowers. Oh, please, please, take this off me. Please. Please take this off me. Please take this off me. Oh, please, take this off me! Take it off me! Take it off me! Help! Somebody help me! Help! No, no, no, no, let me go. Let me go. Please, please, let me go. Let me go, please. Oh, please. Please, let me go. Please, please, let me go.
Dr. Bernardi: Alright, then I will take the bandages off. Get the anesthetist.
Nurse: Yes Doctor.” 1/4/08.

I wanted to share that with you because of its message of what is Normal, What is Beautiful, What is Physically Pleasing. If we have the “right” appearance, or physical, emotional, or behavioral ability –let me stop what is right? What is normal? What is better? Stronger? And who defines this? “The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), produced by the World Health Organization, distinguishes between body functions (physiological or psychological, e.g. vision) and body structures (anatomical parts, e.g. the eye and related structures). Impairment in bodily structure or function is defined as involving an anomaly, defect, loss or other significant deviation from certain generally accepted population standards, which may fluctuate over time. Activity is defined as the execution of a task or action.” 1/4/08.

That last line interests me the most. I know many “DIS-Abled” people, men and women, who have more life in them and drive and succeed more than some ABLE-Bodied people, men and women I know. They just execute "the task or action" Differently using a Mixture of Ability.

If you glance around in a Mall or a Train Station and look carefully you will notice everyone is different from the color of our skin to our physical appearance. As we move in space and co-exist, we move differently with our different appearances and our different steps. As I exist in my own space in a crowded Mall or Train Station, I walk by a man or woman who works out and has great muscle tone and wonder: are they better off than I am physically? Are they more socially accepted because they fit some norm of physicality society has placed on us or we have allowed to be placed on us. I wonder why their Ability to move in Space is more accepted as the right way or the Able-Bodied way-the way to be considered normal. But what about the ones who move around us, whiz past us in chairs, on crutches, pass us by having beautiful conversations out loud or in their heads-poetry-the ones who see the world how it really is-the ones who ignore the petty and embrace and fight for meaning and change-The ones whose way of movement, this way we, who are not able-bodied, communicate and move our bodies in public- why couldn’t that be considered better, more graceful, beautiful, or aesthetically pleasing? Why for the most part are we stared at for our different physical, emotional, behavioral abilities as something that is less than and not equal to. Why don’t we get the sexual embrace in a crowded place from someone’s eye from across the way. What is happening that still prevents the DIS-abled from being Mixed in with everyone else? Why can’t the abilities of all be considered in one term-Mixed Ability. Then we are all accounted for. And there will be no more of this…well, she’s DIS-Abled…and you can hear the awes from the audience.

I can’t walk. But have someone in my life who can but they have a different emotional ability than I do. I have worked recently with students who can play football but their learning ability is different than some who can’t catch a ball. If we can slowly change this word DIS-Ability to Mixed Ability, then it relieves the weight place the person under to claw their way out. Once labeled it’s for life for some, and opportunities still neglect anyone labeled Handicapped or Disabled, and still to this day I hear Crippled. Some of this is plane lack of education and respect but we need to continue the dialogue in regards to changing this one term.

The terms and their definitions taken right from Wikipedia:

Handi-cap- “From Hand-in-cap; perhaps in reference to an old mode of setting a bargain by taking pieces of money from a cap. To encumber with a handicap in any contest; hence, in general, to place at disadvantage;…)

Abnormal-is a subjectively defined characteristic, assigned to those with rare or dysfunctional conditions. 3/10/07.

A cripple is a person or animal with a disability, particularly one who is unable to walk due to an injury or illness. The word was recorded as early as 950 AD, and generally came to be regarded as pejorative when used for people, in the United States, Britain and Canada during the 1960s. In other English-speaking countries, the term is still widely used without pejorative connotations. 1/4/08.

A disability is a condition or function judged to be significantly impaired relative to the usual standard of an individual of their group. The term is often used to refer to individual functioning, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic disease. This usage is associated with a medical model of disability. The human rights or social model focuses on functioning as an interaction between a person and their environment, highlighting the role of a society in labelling, causing or maintaining disability within that society, including through attitudes or accessibility favoring the majority. Disabilities may come to people during their life or people may be born disabled. 1/4/08.

I DID NOT invent the term Mixed Ability. I first heard it used among danacers at The Ohio State University. I added Mixed Ability below to the Wikipedia Site. Please log on and edit or add your own resources:

Mixed Ability is a new term to be used in replace of: disabled, handicapped, abnormal, and crippled. Mixed Ability refers to any person who has a different or Mixed physical Ability. It can also refer to anyone who has a different emotional or learning ability. Words like disabled, crippled, and handicapped have negative connotations throughout history. Mixed Ability contemporizes the label placed on those who have a different or medically documented physical or mental ability and attempts to relieve any social or conversational stigma.
The objective in changing the term is to eliminate stereotypes that exist currently in any society in regards to those with a Mixed Ability. 1/4/08
Retrieved from ""

There is also the question do we want to say that everyone has a Mixed Ability, Able-Bodied or not, because theoretically all of our Abilities are Mixed or do we want to throw away DIS-Ability and use Mixed Ability in its place solely for our Social group.

One other thought: When technology catches up and gives all those men and women who don’t have the muscle control to speak on their own the ability to type out their thoughts, what would happen then if their thoughts are brilliant, code-breaking, peacekeeping, money-making thoughts, will these people who were DIS-abled will they now be superior and re-define Ability via New technology? For now how do we begin the re-definition of Social Group Label in order to change our Social Groups Social Perception.

It’s two words, will it have an impact? I don’t know. What I do know is that anytime someone says DIS-Abled to me or about me I correct them.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hello Dublin? It's Blair from America.

Your City has changed. Last time I was here the streets were quieter, the languages less volatile and more poetic. The sounds are now ones of speed and sharp, razor sharp, exclamations. Sneers passed my way a few times. I didn’t feel comfortable going the ten blocks back to my hotel like I did eight years ago. Eight years ago the Bouncers were Irish. The Bouncers were these stocky men with fresh smiling faces, very helpful. They took care of me while I was inside their Night Clubs by myself. I always felt safe then. Well, now it is much different. People are falling all over each other on the street. They were making rude comments to my face about my wheelchair. They were so wasted a couple of times they almost slammed into me. A couple of young men jumped in front of me not letting me pass while I was trying to get back to my hotel. The only man who helped me on this particular night was an Irishman. He was standing by his cab, smoking a cigarette and I looked at his face and he smiled. The first smile I had seen a smile the whole night. He told me how to get back to my hotel.

When I returned to my hotel I never wanted to leave again. I was tired. The Dublin Cobbles had worn down my back and my arms. My hands were filthy, my knit gloves I bought in Brussels did not last a day here.
What has changed here?
Who has changed the energy of this wonderful city?
I feel that something might boil over very soon in Dublin. There are too many people in one small place who don’t speak the same slang. But their physical presence is well-noted.

Is it the drugs that are around?
Is it The Drink?

Why is Dublin 2007 so hostile?
I miss Dublin 1999.

My last night there I wasn’t able to leave my room, I was beaten. I was exhausted. I wanted out. I wanted to go back home.

While waiting for the Ferry the next morning two women in uniform approached me as I watched the boat dock. I was looking also at this bus that was taking some of the passengers across the Yard. I looked at the two women standing next to me. One was young, attractive, dark hair, severe face, the other older woman was cute, kind, friendly eyes. I asked the younger women if there was another bus coming to pick up passengers for the boat that was docking. She gave me a quick, slight, nasty -yeah- in an Eastern European dialect and waved me off with her hand. I looked at her dumbfounded trying to get her eye contact again so I could tell her what I felt about her Customer Service Skills when the older woman with an Irish dialect explained to me about the buses and that there was a second one and not to worry it was for the boat that just docked. The older woman smiled and I thanked her very much for her help and she winked at me. They both walked away.
So that’s the deal. It’s not the Irish that are the culprits of this odd energy it’s those who have chosen to enter Ireland for work because of the great economy. I guess no one gave them the memo that you have to be respectful of those who let you enter their house ‘cause you could easily be put out on the street.

Trinity Capital Hotel
Pearse Street
Dublin 2
T: +353 1 648 1000
F: +353 1 648 1010
Rates Vary. No Shower Chair. Building Wheelchair Accessible. Great Design.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hello Milan? It’s Blair from America.

You guys like spray paint.
I made the mistake of listening to the young woman at the front desk. I asked her where I could get new boots or “scarpas”. She gave me the name of this mall not too far from the hotel. I took a cab there the next day and wasn’t very impressed. It was a mall like any other in the world except everyone spoke Italian. The only interesting thing was that there were a whole bunch of men in suits walking through the mall talking to their friends and they didn’t look like they worked there. The Italian way of life seems very laid back and quite nice. I went to buy an American “capitalist coca cola” in a supermarket in the mall and didn’t have the right change and a man bought it for me. Very nice people here. The girls in the shoe stores were very helpful even though I spoke very little Italian. After my third shoe store I knew how to ask for boots but that was about it, oh and tell everyone my name in Italian.
As I waited for my ride I was disappointed. I thought Milan would have more architecture. When my ride arrived I was scolded for ending up at this mall. He brought me to Duomo Square. It was beautiful. I was also scolded for thinking La Scala was in Rome. It was wonderful to see the crowded squares with people shopping and eating outside, lying in the grass in the parks. It was also interesting to see Milan’s version of MTV and all the teenagers screaming up to the cameras in one of the buildings by the great church.
The city, even the older parts were accessible. There were many curb cuts. It was hard to find a bathroom until I asked a Campinieri. They found a restaurant for me to use. I wanted to ask them what they would do with those huge swords but I didn’t. The restaurant Maitre de moved all these tables out of my way so I could get to the elevator. I then went to a clothing store where two older women were window shopping. They said something to me in Italian and I said si. They then both got behind me and pushed me into the store. I just laughed and said thank you to them in Italian.
It was easy to catch taxis here. They were very friendly. The most interesting part was the train ride into Milan. As the train arrived at the station it was a big deal to get the lift to help me out of the train. Luckily there was a bi-lingual British man from Liverpool who helped me get off. He then helped me find the wheelchair assistance office which every train stop has had so far. You have to go to these offices to book the ramp ahead of time. Milan train station is massive and was under construction. I had to buy another ticket because I found out through my translator, the man from Liverpool, that I couldn’t go to Monaco because you have to book assistance four days in advance. I didn’t understand that. I wondered if all of the South of France used one ramp. So I just stayed in Milan one more day.
The hotel was a post-modern Holiday Inn Express, very futuristic with a TV/Computer that I wanted to chuck out the window. Some of the technology hasn’t been perfected yet. You are able to use the TV to access the internet but it kept crashing and took about ten minutes to reboot. However you could get wireless access out in the lobby which has a café/bar. One Euro for an Espresso. The young woman at the counter asked me if I wanted an American coffee, I told her I’d take an Italian coffee, you know, since I was in Italy and all.
Such a nice country so far and even nicer people. I want to venture further, I heard it gets better as you travel South. I would prepare myself with more knowledge of the language. I don’t believe everyone should learn English. Each person I have run in to here has apologized for their bad English- I have said right back I apologize for coming to your country and not knowing your language. I just wish more Americans felt this way. Ciao Milano. Ciao.

Holiday Inn Express/Milan Bicocca
# +39 02 667 15000
Rate Varies: 145 Euros/Weeknights
99 Euros/Weekends
Wheelchair Accessible. Room Service a little odd. Took an hour to get a pizza. Taxis come quick for pick-up. A few miles from Milan Central Train Station.
Wheelchair Spotting! One young woman at Milan Train Station, day of arrival 3:30pm. One young male in a sports chair by a food truck 5:35am day of departure.

Hello Paris? It’s Blair from America.

You guys are really nice. Who ever said Parisians or The French in general are rude was wrong. On the train from Waterloo to Paris I was met by many nice people asking me questions in French that I didn’t understand. When I got to Paris I was so impressed. The ramp was waiting to help me off the Eurostar. I was then bumped in front of the taxi line. I wrote down the wrong hotel from my travel agent’s email and the men at that hotel, although swearing at the mix-up in French, called another hotel and booked a room for me and paid for my taxi. My taxi driver sang in French the whole ride to the new hotel.

The new hotel was in a beautiful old building with a lift that had the door you must close first yourself and then it takes you up the inside of the staircase. My room had the huge French doors that opened onto a balcony overlooking the street.

The noise of Paris at night rivals that of London and New York. Paris at night is somehow sweeter and prettier. I left my hotel with a tourist map given to me by the nice young man at the front desk and ventured out into the night to find the Eiffel Tower. I rolled about twenty blocks and found it. It was beautiful and very quiet.

I didn’t know it sparkled at one o’clock. But it does. I took a cab back to the hotel. I was only in Paris for one night. I want to come back.
I took the train from Paris to Milan. The train is about six hours but worth the trip. The train ride went through the French Alps. The mountains are huge and the countryside is clean and it glows. You see small towns on the way that have never been disturbed.

The interesting part is the slow migration into Italy. It was as if you were taking Metro North from Poughkeepsie, New York into New York City. The countryside becomes seedier and more graffiti litters the walls of train stations and buildings as you progress closer to Milan. I asked an Italian man in Milan why this is and he said Milan has many writers and artists who want their work to be seen. We just call them gangs in New York, it’s just semantics I guess. Oh, Paris.

Best Western-Bradford Elysees
14 Rue De Caumartin-75009 Paris
#33 (0) 1 42 66 1515
Wheelchair Accessible room upon request. A step up to the elevator. Lobby not accessible. Dining area accessible.
Rate: 135 Euro/night

Hello Pakistan? It’s Blair from America.

You Guys Are Really Nice…..
One of Kahlil Gibran’s quotes that lives online, but of course was not born, there is “a little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” I want to apply this quote to a recent research trip to Islamabad I finally made this October. For two years I have been planning, talking about, and studying for a departure into the unknown. This year I told myself I had to go, without a contact or a guide, because if not now, when?
There have been a few reasons why this trip was delayed. Some reasons were because of the worry from family, some because I had not secured a contact to take me around. But the main reason now, as I look back was fear. I was constantly asked by family to not go. They would tell me as the subject was brought up-did you see the news? Two people were killed in Pakistan. The American Media puts this awkward, untruthful, fabricated, warning level-like spin on the information it delivers to its’ viewers. Last year armed with a Visa, plane ticket, and hotel reservation, I was ready to visit Islamabad to search for women and children injured in the 2005 Earthquake. I changed my trip at the last minute because I hadn’t found a guide. I was also scared to go alone into the unknown. The concerns I mentioned above came from educated people, people who even, at one time, worked for the United States Government. According to International Media I am no sure how lucrative that job is at present time. However the actor in me “felt” that I had to go regardless, I had to see for myself, get hands on information, material, the research. I had an acting teacher once that said, “Actors don’t think, they do.” I just had this “feeling” it was the right thing to do and it was going to be okay. But now doing research for a PhD I had to think, apply theory, and I would find that the hands on research I obtained would push me further into the mountainous regions of Pakistan. This would be true, if I wanted to find out what it is really like for a Muslim woman with a Mixed Ability in one of the present day global societies on my list of destinations. I the actor, the woman who herself has a Mixed Ability, was in search of other woman and how they faired in their particular infrastructure and in their culture.
I was relieved to see how friendly and helpful the Pakistani people were. Yes it’s a poor country, but that doesn’t mean there are thieves and murderers, car bombers and kidnappers running around in the streets. Probably my only supporter in regards to my trip to Pakistan was a fellow actor, dive bar comrade, and close friend. He kept reminding me not to stand out, be alert, and don’t pre-judge. So I died my hair this horrible brown/black before I left and made sure where ever I went I wore a head scarf and gloves to cover up my tattoos that decorated my right shoulder down to my knuckles.
Once on the runway in Islamabad, we had to wait on the plane another twenty minutes for another plane to exit the gate we needed. The cabin filled with grunts after that announcement. We finally entered the gate. Everyone exited as I waited for the aisle chair which came rather quickly and I found that my wheelchair was already in the airport. I asked if someone was with it? They said someone was. So I hopped in this metal tank connected to this truck and me, four folded wheelchairs, and my new friend drove to the airport terminal on top of this truck. As we drove over I had my camera in my hand and was trying to do some undercover filming. My new friend said is that a camera? I said no, no, its’ for DVD’s and put it away. I guess there’s no filming here.
As we were almost the airport I could see through a crack in the wall of the metal tank my wheelchair waiting for me and I yelled excitedly, “That’s my chair!” I was so happy. It was waiting with two airport employees and two Military Police. The entrance to the airport next to a nice long ramp. I got out of the truck/metal tank contraption and got into my chair and as my new friend tried to push he looked confused when there were no handle bars, I said, no I do it and gestured for him to go first and I would follow. Then he gestured for me to go and he would follow. I didn’t get this because I had no clue where I was going, so as comedy works in threes I gestured for him to go and I would follow and he finally conceded. I was trying to think if this was a factor of the Muslim culture I missed in my preparation for this trip and I couldn’t think of why the woman would lead. And as I made it up the ramp fine, even thought he cheated and still pushed a little, I turned to him to say again I could do it I saw the military officer waiting in the door way. Once in the Islamabad Airport and in my chair I was whisked through the Customs line. Then my new friend and I searched diligently for my luggage, this was his job but I felt he was on top of it. He kept asking me what my bag looked like. He even left me at the conveyer belt and ran over to the window and watched for thirty minutes all the bags coming out of bulk from the plane. As I waited by the luggage conveyer I joked and scoffed with my limit Urdu about the delay in the luggage arrival with others Pakistani men standing next to me.
Finally my bag was located and I was escorted to the parking lot. It was crowded but I was met by a tall man with a beard asking if I needed a taxi. I asked how much, he said 500 Rupees. I said okay, not realizing at the time that 500 Rupees is the equivalent of a few dollars in America and it is a consistent amount for just abut anything in Pakistan. A scarf-500 Rupees, a Taxi ride across Islamabad-500 Rupees, Dry Clean Eight shirts and a couple skirts-500 Rupees, and so on.
Visitors from outside Pakistan are known as Foreigners. I tried to not act like one. I could see how things might get bad very quickly if you were not respectful of your host. In the parking lot my taxi driver pulled his small car out of the parking space so I could get in. Two very tall, gaunt, dark men who looked related were helping direct traffic around my drivers car but it seemed as though they hired themselves as parking attendants because as I looked around there were so many people and cars on this lot, constantly moving. I got in the car, gave the airport worker -500 Rupees- he vanished, then I helped my driver with the disassembly of my chair and the two parking lot employees looked at me and I gave one -500 Rupees- and he disappeared. Then the other looked at me for another bill. I said I gave him one for the two of you. He kept begging for another and my driver took off. I felt bad as I watched the two men walk back to the airport entrance. I started to realize everyone was on their own here and I could be a little more generous with the Rupees. It’s hard sometimes being from New York, you always feel like you are being ripped off. That wasn’t the case here.
The drive to the hotel was eye opening. The streets look dry and it was busy outside but felt empty. I asked the driver if he could drive by Melody Cinema, a place where the owners had housed many injured women and children after the Earthquake. After a few stops and some directions from men working on the street, the driver found it. It was vacant and quiet.
At the hotel armed military officers checked the driver and the car for weapons and bombs. Once inside and around more Military Officers and a metal detector I reached the front desk and gave my driver 1000 Rupees. He smiled and left. He told me in the car after I asked him his name that my name-Elizabeth- was pronounced Alishba in Urdu. I was not sure name which I liked better.
At check-in I was met by a good looking young man who spoke English fairly well. He had a smile he made with his eyes and mouth after he spoke that made you look behind you to see if there was a clown or someone making faces. As he was checking me in and continually smiling, a woman with a British dialect came to the front desk, no scarf on, and was perturbed about a phone call and her bill. She was politely scolding the men behind the desk and then she walked off. I kept thinking she must be out her damn mind. I just kept smiling and thanking the young man behind the desk and smiling back.
Once in my room, after the tour from the bell man I noticed something. All the items in the room seemed as if they were found or gathered from other places and then arranged in here-like I did in my doll house when I was a young girl. The hotel room was very nice. The bed was soft and cozy, a huge tapestry hung behind it framed with a decorative wood panel, and the walls looked like they were made of porcelain. A glass door opened up to a sitting room with couches and chairs. The bathroom was completely accessible, even more so than the hotel room in Dubai. I asked the bellman for a shower chair and he came back along with another bellboy, who I think might have wanted to check me out or get a tip, no problem with either. He looked very green anyway, young face, wide eyes, and passive. The bellman brought his interpretation of a shower chair, a metal side table. It fit in the tub and would work. I thanked them. I sat in my hotel room in Islamabad happy. I felt safe.
I went out to visit the city of Islamabad the next day with a driver the hotel called in. He had a newer car and I sat in the back behind mesh-tinted windows. He was a tall man, wearing light clothing and a kind face. He was hesitant when he first saw me waiting for him at the front desk. He came up behind me as I was talking to the young man who checked me in. The young man was giving me his phone number in Pakistan. He wanted me to keep in touch. Each day I had been there he had the dining room staff after dark-as they were observing Ramadan-send me fruit. I was thanking him and he was picking me up Pakistan style as the driver approached. I was flattered and gave him my business card with my number in the U.S. and my email. He asked if he could call the number for me and I joked that it was my father’s number and his face almost went white. I said I was just kidding, he needed a few of those to reassure him before he took the card.
I left with my driver Zafar. He put my chair in the trunk and we took off. I wanted to visit The Edhi Foundation, a Human Rights/Welfare Organization with over fifteen offices based in Pakistan and also many other major countries around the world. This was another organization I had been attempting to contact for the last two years in order to get information about the Earthquake Victims and the now empty Melody Cinema. They had an office down the rode from the hotel. As we drove there Zafar mentioned how on our left was the Mosque that was just the scene of the hostage gun battle a few weeks before. There were these banners tied between the trees in front of the Mosque. The banners had these huge phrases written in colorful paint in beautifully scripted Urdu. I asked what they read and Zafar hesitated, he said they asked for money for food.
We got to the Edhi Foundation. Zafar parked and got my chair. I got out of the car and it was crowded outside but not too many people looked at me. They just walked around or sat on the ground minding their own business. This one woman was at the top of these huge brick steps that lead downstairs to the Foundation. She had a pretty face and was wearing a paisley scarf. I was envious of her scarf. Why did I arm myself with black outfits and black scarves. A lot of the women either didn’t wear a scarf in defiance of the oppressive nature of the head dress or they wore complete head dress with only slits for their beautiful dark eyes, or they covered their hair. I guess I was in the middle along with this young women holding pamphlets and talking directly to me in Udru. I wished I spoke their language. I looked at her and smiled. As I tried to keep eye contact with her Zafar got my attention. He looked at me and pointed to the steps. But it wasn’t the steps he was concerned we wouldn’t get down it was the masons who were re-designing the walkway to the staircase. He asked a man standing near us if there was another entrance and the man made a fluid gesture towards the building. Zafar then said we must go around to the back of the building. I left the woman and asked Zafar what she had said, he said she asked for money for Edhi. As we drove around the back of the building, Zafar helped me out again I noticed there was a ramp. What is going on here? This place isn’t supposed to be accessible! It’s supposed to be archaic and hard to navigate and I am supposed to be crying and wanting to go home and write letters to the United Nations pleading for wheelchair accessibility in Islamabad. Was my research changing? Would I now have to write about how the poorest country was the most accommodating? The most helpful? What did this mean to my research? Was I now reporting on places that people could go and visit without structural obstacles? I had more questions each minute and I felt as though my research I had narrowed down had now become more vast and complicated. As I move forward in my research the more I see the more questions I have.

We ran into the young woman who was in front of the building as we approached the Edhi office. She must has heard Zafar ask if there was an entrance around back. We passed by her and entered the office. This Edhi office in Melody Center looked like it came off the set of an Indiana Jones movie. There were these huge wooden desks with elderly Pakistani men seated behind them in old wooden chairs. Along the walls as if part of the architecture were these huge bookcases. Littered on the desks were stacks and stacks pf papers and receipts-sheets with carbon copies. No computers. I thought as I sent out my emails to Edhi that they were arriving in some corporate office in Islamabad. I started to speak English to this one man and he waved me off to his colleague who stood up and I asked him if there were any woman or children who needed wheelchairs from the Earthquake. As I asked this I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. He looked at me and said no. All that was taken care of a long time ago. I asked about Balakot a small town five hours north of Islamabad that was hit the worst by the Quake. This town was also on television the day before for the country wide Observance of the Quake and it’s victims. Pakistan held memorial services identical to 9/11 on their news stations all day and in the city.
He said Balakot didn’t need chairs. He said they were sent out already. He basically said everything is being taken care of. He said I could go there if I wanted. I realized this moment was futile. I was too late. The only thing I wondered but didn’t ask was why, if Pakistan has over 850 paraplegics from the Quake, was didn’t you see one person in a wheelchair on television? There was only one quick remark about the injured on the News Broadcasts that I watched the day before taking furious notes. As we left I was sadly thinking about the empty Melody Cinema and those women and children. I remember two years ago I saw a brief news story on one of America’s Network news stations. A British male reporter was in a makeshift tent with a microphone. The only light was from the cameraman. He panned through the flimsy metal walls and along side them were women and children lying in bed with colorful blankets around them and scarves to cover their mouths. Some just stared into the camera, lost. Others looked terrified. The news reporter said these women and children were now paraplegics from the Earthquake in Northern Pakistan. He said they had no medical care, doctors to fuse their broken backs, no wheelchairs. He said it would be getting very cold in the mountains of Kashmir very soon. And then the story ended and some bullshit commercial or story about a fucking animal rescue or a shooting in Brooklyn came on. This thirty second news piece stopped me in my tracks. I thought: what did I just see? They can’t walk now, they have no chairs or doctors. What can I do? I can’t ignore this.

I sat in my apartment, warm, with my “things” and wondered how could get help to these women and children? How could I get to them? The next two years I would try via emails, internet searches and such with no real response, only generalizations and mixed information. But it is the same now as it was back then: I only got a little bit of information at a time. Since this news story I have been piecing together this event and trying to get to these Women.

Since the first news story I focused on one spot which I read a few articles about. A place in Islamabad called Melody Cinema. Supposedly it burned down a few years ago as it acted as a Mother and Son run Movie Cinema. After the earthquake the pair opened its doors to women and children who needed medical care and shelter. Now it was vacant. I had seen so myself. But where was everybody? And why hadn’t anyone followed up on this? Am I going insane and wasting my time? Should I be looking into female paraplegics in Alabama as my father wishes instead of Pakistan? Just more questions.

I gave the woman with the paisley headscarf 100 Rupees. She looked at the note slightly disappointed. It wasn’t enough to get one of those brochures she had in her hand. Zafar helped me back in the car and I focused on the rest of the day in Islamabad.

We drove to a market his friends owned. One of the most popular in Islamabad he said. And as if someone was taunting me the market had a ramp. It was concrete liked the buildings themselves so it wasn’t new. I bought some scarves and Pakistani beads. Zafar mentioned this place a few miles away he liked to go. He said you could see the whole city and Rawalapalindi in the distance. I agreed to pay him another 500 Rupees to go. As we drove there we were stopped at a light and a woman with full head dress and a child under her arm was walking down the line of cars peeking in banging with her fists on the windows. She made her way to Zafar’s window and he completely ignored her and kept talking about how there was no work here and how the Red Mosque Incident blocked him from getting to the hotel to pick up fares. As he was talking the woman made her way to my window. She peeked in trying to see through the mesh tint. She scared me. She looked serious and angry her fist banging on the window. Zafar then said with perfect timing as the woman gave up and moved away how the mesh tint protected his Foreign customers. If he didn’t have it in his car it would be dangerous for them to be seen. I thought great this is getting better by the minute. Not only has part of my research collapsed in one afternoon but I find out the tint isn’t for show.
We drive past all the State buildings and Zafar pulls over so I can take pictures.
He then takes me up this mountain rode. We pass by a Military Base and a man lying on sand bags with a huge automatic weapon the size of Zafar in front of him. Zafar says this rode is safe not to worry, the Military training camp is right here. We pass men pulled over in their cars talking to each other. As we drive further up the rode is looks very peaceful and you can begin to see these mountains in the distance.
Then a sign for The Islamabad Zoo, I wondered about this. In my research before leaving for Pakistan I read about this Zoo and wondered what the Islamabad Zoo had. As Zafar got us VIP entrance, he said his friend worked the gate and let us up to the look out point. You could see monkeys everywhere. On the grass in the garbage cans-fat monkeys not in cages but walking around. Then Zafar showed me the peacocks, his favorite, again walking around no cages.
He helped push me up another ramp and we made it to the spot he was telling me about. It was beautiful. You could see the whole city. You could Rawalpalindi. On the right he showed me the Mosque Saudi Arabia bought for them.
Then Zafar told me about this place he brought me to. He said he came here with his wife. He said this was the place for their Honeymoon. He said there marriage was arranged but that he loved her and she was a good mother to their two children. He said how he brought his mother here and she sat on this bench that was right near where we were standing and he then told me soon after he brought her here and after she told him thank you for bringing her because it was such a beautiful place he said she died. He then said he will now remember this place because he was here with his wife, he had been here with his mother before she passed away, and now he had been here with me, his new friend. He then walked around the lookout with me and as I took pictures he saw a flower and asked me to take a picture of it and I did. He kept reminding me to put the camera strap on my wrist. He seemed to value its’ safety more than me.
As we went back to the car I noticed a wheelchair sitting in of a huge handicapped sign at the bottom of this huge ramp. I took a picture and just smiled.
My trip back to the airport was early and my new friend at the front desk was sad to see me go. I asked him if he would be here in February because I wanted to visit Balakot. He said he will take care of me and get me a ride there. He asked one more time if the number I gave him was mine and not my father’s and I reassured him it was mine.

The shuttle took me and a few others to the airport. As we drove there I came to Islamabad in the middle of a tumultuous election and the anticipated visit of Benazir Bhutto, but on the exact day of the Earthquake. I still didn’t know what this trip meant. We were dropped off at an illegal entrance to the airport surrounded by taxis, people climbing the airport fences and asking for money. Luckily the military police thought I was with this Spanish couple and waved me inside then they blew a whistle at all the other people and they darted away. It took a minute to get into the Departure section of the airport and at the British Airways check-in I was asked again about the bathroom. This question must be policy now. I mean if they are asking it in London and Islamabad someone must have either made a huge mess in a lavatory on the plane or maybe Flight Attendants have been helping people go? I don’t know what is going on. Luckily this young woman only asked me once, she had too much else to worry about. She escorted me to the other stations and before I could get into the waiting lounge I had to explain why I had a wrench in my bag. I told her it was for my wheelchair and not to disassemble the plane. Luckily she had a sense of humor.
Upstairs in the waiting area I looked in the bathroom and the stalls weren’t big enough. A Muslim woman with strong features and a large muscular frame, wearing a light blue Burka said something to me in Urdu but I just smiled and left the bathroom. I have this complex now. I want to go every five seconds before I board. I found the fancy lounge and the man said they have a bathroom but I would have to wait. I didn’t know why I was waiting. Then I saw the Muslim woman from the other bathroom come and escort me into the fancy bathroom. We went in together and I looked at the stall. It was half-accessible. I just waved it off and said it was okay and went to leave and she stopped me and made a gesture that she would lift me. I thought, why not. This should be interesting. So I let her help me. I never let anyone lift me, especially someone I don’t know in a public bathroom. But she picked me up without any problem and took my chair outside the stall. I went and when I was done she put me back in my chair. I said thank in Urdu and then at the sink I pointed to my chest and said Alishba. She then pointed to her chest and said Allah and looked up at the ceiling and raised up her hands in praise. I took a deep breath and thought I am never going to forget this moment. We went out side together and she walked away.
A little while later I was escorted to the Metal Tanker on top of the truck and drove over to the plane with a grumpy man who kept telling me to wait, he also told me I couldn’t take my chair on board. I thought just “wait” and see. I asked the crew if they could put my chair on board and they agreed. I got on board fine and was placed again in business class. There was not a lot of people on board this flight. I asked the Flight Attendant if she could help me with my foot rest. I told her I tried to do it and popped out the life jacket. She laughed and said I wouldn’t need it anyway, there’s no water down there.

I have realized that there is a system set up in each country for people with Mixed Abilities and each system varies according to its’ depth. Each country also has a social service system in place for victims of natural disasters and if they need assistance there are many NGO’s and Christian Based organizations that help out when a country is in need. My research has turned into discovering what already exists and how a woman today navigates through the world using what is already there. Now can I report on that research, publish what I find and by releasing my findings on what exists already can I then begin to make the system that exists better? Can I find a British Airways Executive and tell them that asking passengers in chairs if they can go to the bathroom on their on in a crowded airport is slightly uncool maybe a better system should be in place? Can I change the way people in chairs fly by not scolding the system but by asking for reform? By reporting on my travels to different countries and experiences with different cultures I can share the experience and hopefully more people will write about their experiences and create this online, virtual network of information that lives in one place. Right now information is scattered in regards to accessibility and travel. I am going to make one place for all the information you would need on accessibility and what your experience will be.
I have found that there is a Psychology that accompanies these experiences. With millions of people worldwide living with Mixed Abilities why aren’t their culture more visible? When in Pakistan I never saw one person in a wheelchair. There were no people in chairs on the television and they had satellite TV in the hotel room. If you aren’t represented in the media, why would you feel comfortable going out into society? There is a Psychology of under-representation. From my practical experience I have discovered the difficulty of wanting to be out in the world alone. I think by what I am doing now I will discover the correlation between visibility in the media and the increased visibility in the outside world.

Holiday Inn/Radisson Islamabad
G-6 Civic Center
Islamabad, Pakistan
Rate: 228.00 USD/night = Approx. 14,000 Pakistani Rupees
Wheelchair Accessible. Ramp into hotel a little steep.

Hello Emirates Airline? It’s Blair from America.

Oh Emirates. Are you guys in bed with Aer Lingus and do you party on the weekend with British Airways? I ask because when it comes to handling passengers who use wheelchairs you guys are pretty adorable. I want to pinch your cheeks.
The crowded Departure Terminal at Dubai is a game of trying not to be cut in line or get hit with these huge boxes of who knows what these passengers have saran-wrapped to take home with them. And they don’t have one or two, they have five or six. When I got out of the Hotel Van I thanked my newest friend and went inside. I was in the wrong line for about ten minutes, actually I didn’t even know where I was supposed to be there was just this line and I got in it. I guess the sociological pressure of trying to be a part of a group. As I searched for a way out, and fought against the many people who looked for someone to cut and they chose me, one of the very few times my New York came out. I don’t know if it was because I was alone or the chair but I physically had to push people back out of the line with my chair and shake my head and suck my teeth at them, oh and of course cut my eyes. So I am looking and thinking there has GOT to be another line, and there was way down the entrance to departures. What I want to note also were another group of men just wondering this section of the airport aimlessly. They weren’t asking for money but I got the feeling if you dropped something and you didn’t notice you dropped it the Ten Second Rule applied.
I wheeled down to the “other entrance” and the man at this door was turning people away. I got out my ticket and before I could show it to him he gestured with a half-smile for me to go inside. Okay that’s done. Now was the first security check. As my bags went through one of the creepy wandering guys from outside was trying to get through with going through the security check point and he was making this security guard very, very angry. The creepy wandering guy was trying to pull out some old crusty piece of paper from his over-flowing tan wallet. I just went through the gate and set off the alarm. These three pretty veiled women escorted me into a small closet, only after I made sure the X-Ray Tech had both my bags. Inside this tiny room was The Koran, a praying mat, and a mirror. I actually thought I was going to be stripped searched. I was kind of excited. But she just patted me down. I guess this closet was for a Muslim woman’s privacy.
I got my bags and was gestured to the front of the Check-In Line. Now I don’t like to cut people. I always get to the airport way before boarding, but I will admit the Dubai Airport to date comes in second to Pakistan as having the swiftest policy for getting passengers with Mixed Abilities to their Gate.
My turn. So I go up to the counter which is almost 18 inches above my head and the young, sweet, Emirates employee asks me what I want to check. I asked her if I could keep my backpack she said no it weighed too much. So I start to remove the essentials, items that if I lose this back on the way to Pakistan what can’t I live without. Ofcourse personal female items are overflowing out th top as I try to get to my laptop and some underwear. Trying to distract onlookers and the Youngman who is towering over me to help, I ask her what will they do with my wheelchair:

Emiracita- Can you walk at all?
Blair-No. I need my chair. I also need an aisle chair to get on the...
Emiracita- So you can take our wreerchair and we bring you to gate in our wreerchair.
Blair- Ummm, actually how will that work and where will my chair go?
Emiracita- (She points behind me somewhere, I don’t even look. I was much more interested in what she was going to say next.) You can wrap your wreerchair in prastic wrap and put on conveyer belt and we take it and put under prane. You can get it in Pakistan with your other luggage.
Brair-(Laughing inside. Laughing because I now just realized I was going to Pakistan by myself on an airline that wanted me to wrap up my “wreerchair” like a PB&J sandwhich and I was supposed to say okay what a great idea! Instead I just looked at her smiled and said) Ummm, actually do you have a Supervisor? I understand your idea, I mean it’s a great one, but I was thinking more along the lines of taking the chair apart putting it in the airplane cabin closet, or worst case staying in it, tagging it, and transferring out of it at the gate and giving to the SkyCap to put in Bulk? Maybe?
Emiracita- I will get my Supervisor.

So the next five minutes I battled with the conveyor belt that had all my personal stuff in it, and without looking a couple of times the Emirates Girl keep turning on the belt and saying so sorry. We were both smiling it was cool. I just realized I had to now be patient and go with the flow. So Supervisor Lady comes over and we all agree the “wrapping” idea wouldn’t work that well this time so I was escorted by a man to the waiting area. We both went through about two more security checkpoints and three more elevators to a Special Delivery room in the Airport. While with my escortor I found out he was Pakistani and like a jerk introduced myself and shook his hand. I realized that was a BIG no-no and apologized. I tried to ask him more questions but his English was bad and my Urdu was even worse so he basically said no more talking for him he would just bring me to the terminal. So I stopped with the questions.
We got to this Special Delivery office/holding cell. I gave my boarding pass to a nice young woman and she said I can wait here and they will take me to the gate for boarding and tag my chair at the gate. I looked at the clock. It was 12:30am and boarding didn’t start until 2:40am. I asked her if I could leave and come back, and she looked at me with pleading eyes and said yes but please come back by 2:30am.
I went straight over to Emirates Bank to convert my Dirhams and USD’s to Pakistani Rupees. I was at the counter and about ready to put down my wad of twenties when this little Asian Woman, and by Asian I would guess Korean possibly, wherever in the East she was from she actually leaned her tiny little Lucy Lui body in front of me and started asking the Bank Agent to convert her money. I was now angry. I said no you don’t. I am next you can wait. She gave me attitude and backed away slightly but only after the Bank Agent looked at her and gestured with his eyes for her to wait. She was still soooo in my back-space that I asked her to move, please move away you are too close to me.
I got my money and waited for two hours wondering the terminal; buying junk in the trinket shops, going to the bathroom a few times. I got back to the holding cell just in time and was escorted to the gate by two employees of the Special Delivery Office. The Special Delivery Office is a private company that handles all the transport of people in chair for Emirates. These two women joked with me about Dubai and me not needing them to push me to the plane and then they gasped when I said I was going to Pakistan by myself and I didn’t know anyone there. Then they laughed a laugh like you’re gonna die.
We all laughed. They said they liked me. I boarded the plane okay. And just let go and trusted my chair would make it in one piece to Islamabad.
I was sitting in the Economy Class wondering who would be my new friends to sit with me. First a man sat next to me. He smiled but that was it. Then a few minutes later a pretty woman from Afghanistan sat next to me. She was very cool. She thought I was Egyptian.
My whole time in Dubai and going into Pakistan I made the choice to where a full head scarf out of respect for the Muslim culture and for Ramadan. The woman, Mashal, wasn’t veiled. I asked her why and told her I had noticed a lot of women were not veiled. She scoffed at the idea. She said, I am Muslim. But I will not let the stares of the men scare me and make me cover myself. I wear what I want and what I think is respectful.
We giggled as the plane took off. You see Emirates has this cool device-a camera they installed on the front and underneath the plane so on all the monitors you can see the plane taking off and the runway getting smaller. It is the freakiest thing in the world. Especially if you are afraid to fly. I got over that quick. I filmed the take off. I thought it was the coolest thing. I joked with Mashal about what would we do if we saw another plane fly by underneath this one on the camera, or a monster.
After a squishy lunch was served. I had to use the bathroom. I told the attendant and she said she would be back with the aisle chair. Well she didn’t return for ten minutes and when she did she told me I couldn’t use the aisle chair because they were descending. So her and her colleague said they would lift me up into the bathroom. Both these girls weighed a buck fifty combined and they were going to lift me through the bathroom door? I just told them to step aside. I crawled on the floor of the plane to the bathroom. When inside the Captain says, Ladies and Gentlemen we will be descending in three minutes. Lazy *$#!, they just didn’t want to go all the way to the front and get the chair. When was done I got out my camcorder pressed record put it in my mouth and hopped on the floor waving nicely for people to move out of my way and I handed the camera to Mashal and pulled myself up into my seat. I turned to the Flight Attendant and said that was unacceptable. She had no response, looked a little frightened and walked away for our descent.
We landed fine in Islamabad. I taped the whole landing thanks to Emirates cool cameras. We had to wait on the plane another twenty minutes for another plane to exit the gate we needed. The cabin filled with grunts after that announcement. We finally exited I waited for the aisle chair which came rather quickly and found that my wheelchair was already in the airport. I asked if someone was with it? They said someone was. So I hopped in this metal tank connected to this truck and me, four folded wheelchairs, and my new friend drove to the airport. As we drove over I had my camera in my hand. My new friend said is that a camera? I said no, no, its’ for DVD’s and put it away. I guess there’s no filming here.
As we were almost the airport I yelled, “That’s my chair!” I was so happy. It was waiting with two airport employees but the entrance to the airport next to a nice long ramp. I got out of the truck/metal tank contraption and got into my chair and as my new friend tried to push he looked confused when there were no handle bars, I said, no I do it and gestured for him to go first and I would follow. And as I made it up the ramp fine, even thought he cheated and still pushed a little, I turned to him to say again I could do it I saw the military officer waiting in the door way. I made it. I was now in Pakistan.

Hello Dubai? It's Blair From America.

I’m leaving now. My last day in Dubai was one where I questioned exactly what I was doing there. After going to lunch the day before in the world’s most luxurious hotel, I felt I hadn’t yet seen the real Muslim culture I wanted so desperately to sit with for a while.
I thought about Dubai, a man-made city, an economy that is booming, and I felt out of place. I was staying downtown and although I was happy with my hotel it wasn’t as if I was on vacation. I started to realize I was stuck in between the tourist culture and the actual culture of the people of Dubai. But who are they and how long have they live in this pre-fabricated society?
I met a lot of foreigners while there. People from India, Nigeria, the Philippines, and I noticed a lot of people had lived there, on the average of eight-ten years. They all chose to move to Dubai to work, at least the people I met. My practical insights below stretch beyond accessibility. I believe you can only speak about an issue if you have had some part in it, whether physical, emotional, intellectual, I don’t think you can speak factually about an issue if it is just from general knowledge or stereotype. Preface, preface. With that said and my limited amount of time in Dubai I was left culturally disoriented.
What left me confused and without an answer was: what is the real culture here? Yes it is a Muslim Country and it is run by a Sheik, but what does Dubai exist for? Maybe it is just for the wealthy and those who can afford to move there to work.
Then I ask myself about these “tours” of Dubai I saw in all the brochures: tours for Safari’s and Desert Banquets. For a very small price you can catch a ride into the desert and experience dinner, camel rides, four wheeling in the dunes. I guess it is a vacation city, one whose inhabitants are very happy.
I wrote in my last post that I would return, no I wrote that I “vowed” to return, how dramatic. After eating at The Burj Al Arab it was easy to get addicted to the view of the Arabian Sea, the Finger Islands, but I was alone there. I am thankful I got to see these things but as I look back after a few days of reflection I don’t know if I would return by myself for vacation.
Dubai is a crystal ball. It doesn’t have any sharp edges. It flows. But I noticed its truth was hard to see. What is it exactly? Don’t ask me why I am having such a difficult time understanding a five day trip, but I noticed this odd separation between cultures.
You could get a room at a very nice hotel and lie out on the beach and not notice for a second the culture surrounding you. I guess I don’t want to be in the middle. I would rather sit, invited, veiled, at a family’s Iftar than spend all my money at a high-priced hotel. One option is an empty one with instant gratifications and great digital pictures; the other is real life and an honest first hand way to get to the truth about what people think about our world and how we fill fair as nations in the future.
There are political and religious issues that are not portrayed correctly on American TV. Like the saying, don’t believe all that you read, well don’t believe all the propaganda on western television. Yes there are problems, wars, bombings, hatred, but there are still people who love and do not want to destroy. I can’t understand how a country can get to the boiling point and kill and imprison Buddhist Monks in Myranmar. In Dubai that wouldn’t happen, but could people protest? Or do they have anything to protest? Is Dubai the new model for the perfect society?
As I was leaving Dubai to catch my 3am flight I realized Dubai was just an introduction, a welcoming mat into the world of Islam, the fasting and prayer of Ramadan, and my geographical goal for the last two years: Pakistan.

Holiday Inn Downtown Dubai
PO Box 29499
TEL: (971) (4) 2288889
Rate: 480 AED/Night Inclusive + Sales Tax
Location: Good
Wheelchair Accessible. Ramp into hotel too steep to roll up on my own, not ADA Reg. but they tried. No hand held shower. No Shower Chair. Elevator.
Transport: Must use private car service. Actual Taxis did not stop for me in my chair. Private car service approximately 60 AED for thirty minute ride.
Currency Conversion: 400 AED=100 USD
Wheelchair spotting! One man in a Everest & Jennings chair by The Gold Center 5:30pm.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Hello Dubai? It's Blair From America.

Today was one of those days when everything is beautiful and people are kind. I had a "limo" driver pick me up at The Holiday Inn Downtown. Not really a limo but a nice car, and not really a screaming cabbie lying about petrol but a kind man who could carry on a decent conversation about politics and people from different cultures. He also knew a lot about Dubai. He was from India but has been working here for many years and loves it.
As we drove to my lunch date at The Burj Al Arab you could see Dubai is booming. Everywhere there are new skyscrapers going up and even a Metro system will be up and running by 2009. Dubai also will have the World's tallest building pretty soon. Even though Dubai is an opulent society, there isn't this obvious class difference you can see in other countries like in The Carribean. Dubai has a fluidity to it and people here seem happy and hard-working. But I get the feeling they are paid correctly for their hard work.
We arrived at the hotel and as I kindly disagreed with my driver about his tip, I wanted to pay him a little more- another fact here: people don't readily accept tips. There were two bell boys trying to put together my chair. They were at it for a few minutes because I was trying to get my driver to take the extra money. When I find a good driver you want to let him know you appreciate his awareness. I turned around and showed the two men how to put it together and they said, Oooooh, and smiled at me. I went into the hotel and it was just as I had imagined from the pictures online. The design is a futuristic post-modern: basically there are pod like cups that run up the inside of the hotel. The colors are all primary but the background is an elegant gold trim on all the sofas and floors.
I went to the 27th Floor for lunch. The view is humbling. You can see The Persian Gulf and the Finger Islands, the beach, it makes you feel stress-free just sitting up there. I was content smiling at the waiters and well, just smiling. The Maitre'De brought me a newspaper which I didn't need to read. I wasn't even bothered by the crying children in the restaurant or the constant tourists taking pictures. I ate my meal and then went to a quiet section of the restaurant and took pictures. I was saddened by the fact I had no one to share the experience with. Then I was sad that I wasn't staying here and I wanted to take a speedboat ride over to the Finger Islands. I vowed I would be back.
I used each bathroom the hotel had that was big enough for me. The bathrooms smelled like this smooth, citrus, perfume and so did the elevators. I took pictures of the bathrooms which spooked the woman working in it. But she worked here and I didn't know exactly when I would return.
I had a great conversation while waiting for my driver to return with an employee from Nigeria. I asked him if he ever ate up in the restaurant on the 27th Floor and he said oh yes, with a very big smile. He said he was awarded Best Employee and he got a free meal up there. He said it was very nice. I congratulated him. He was very kind.
I located the gift shop where items were extremely over-priced, it was like a trinkity-New York City Shop but in the World's Best Hotel. As I looked around the small shop there was a man tucked away in the corner praying. I felt embarrassed but I really needed woman's supplies. So after a few whispers with the young woman at the counter I got my supplies and left. I visited the beautiful bathrooms one last time and went outside and found my driver waiting. We drove away and I was happy.
The ride back he drove by the Gold Center for me. This looked like the old Dubai before The Boom. It was still clean and there seemed to be more people outside at this time because it would soon be the end of the day's fasting. As we drove back to the Holiday Inn Downtown you could see in front of each restaurant the chairs were ready for people to sit in and the waiters were all dressed and ready to take orders. Like the restaurants in front of the Mosques people were waiting too for 6pm to come. There wasn't an anxiety in the air, there was a happyness.
As we pulled up to the hotel the driver told me to call him if I needed a ride the next day. We were greeted by all my new friends: the giggly bell boy, the concierge, a new security guard whose uniform was too big for him, and another bell boy from my first day. There were all smiling and it took all of them to put the wheelchair together.
I went inside and ordered some sodas and went to sleep. I woke up with an odd ringing in my right ear. I thought something crawled in it and was playing a tuning fork. It went away after I shoved three Q-Tips in it. Maybe it's a parasite like in that "Star Trek" episode or maybe it's just a ringing that stopped. It was there then it was gone. Like a bad day, they come they go but I remembered today to le yesterday go, and pay attention or I would have missed today. The End For Now.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hello Dubai? It’s Blair from America….

My First Afternoon in Dubai

Stares and Transport: First-Hand Psychological affect staring has on a person in a wheelchair and the futile effort in some places to break visual stereotypes in order to get service in regards to public transportation.

Question: Do you need to have a “companion” in order to get places where it geographically isn’t accessible and the taxis refuse to pick you up because of some preconceived stereotype with the wheelchair? Must you stay in a high priced hotel where no one will turn you down? Does Money=Service every time?

I arrived in Dubai around 10pm their time yesterday. The airport is beautiful. I was grateful once I got off the plane to be greeted my an airport employee who only needed to be told once that I didn’t need help. We travelled beside each other though this massive airport, taking three elevators, fast-tracked through two security checks then to the main concourse. I told him I needed to make a money exchange, but not Dirhams-Ruppees and Pakistani Rupees at that. I felt bad telling him I needed Pakistani money, this after he told me he is from India and he moved here a few years ago. He likes living and working in Dubai so when I saw the look on his face I felt I needed to explain to him why I was seeking a oney exchange for Pakistan. I told him I was a student and I also told him about my Thesis, he shook his head as to say he understood. We made our way to the taxi port and once we were outside I felt the Dubai heat. Not humid but a dry heat like you had the sun on your face or arms and there were no clouds in the sky. It was interesting I had three layers of clothing on so that I could save room in my carry-on, but I didn’t feel like I would pass out from the heat. All of a sudden another man approached me smiling and pointing and held a sign up with my name on it the hotel name. I smiled and was relieved. I called to my friend from the airport who was trying to bypass everyone else in line and get me a cab. The man with the sign with my name on it thought I was yelling to a companion travelling with me. He walked up to this white man getting into a cab, I yelled not him, him: and pointed to my friend from the airport. They met and walked towards me. I told my friend from the airport this was The Guy from the hotel. Then all three of us went to the Holiday Inn Dubai Downtown Hotel Van. My friend from the airport would not take a tip. He smiled and said farewell. The Guy from the hotel was also kind but quizzical about how to get me in the van. English is spoken here but it isn’t the first language. Arabic and Punjabi are spoken more frequently. The Guy from the hotel was also from India, which I would find out on my van ride with him to the hotel.
So I took it slow. I asked him to move the van closer. He did. As I went to transfer he made a big move to help me up grabbing me under my arms. I know in my heart when people do this it is to help. But most of the time they aren’t ready to lift a person. Luggage you can drop if it is too heavy or awkward. I also I didn’t want this Guy from the hotel to put his back out. So I turned around, smiled and told him I can do it, just watch me, I gave him an activity so I wouldn’t insult his offer I asked him will you hold my chair? I lifted myself in quickly then I turned to him and he was staring quizzically at the wheelchair. I said watch. And I showed him how the tires come out, right then left. I then showed him how the frame folds a little in the back. I took my cushion and he put the chair in the trunk and we were off.
We talked on the ride there about Dubai. I mistook Dubai for a Democracy, The Guy driving the Hotel van said it is ruled by a King. I asked how the economy is doing, he said very good, they are building many things now. He said he has lived in Dubai for sixteen years. I asked if he ever gets back to India he said maybe every two years and then he went on to tell me about his vacation package he has with his boss. It seemed quite fair, two weeks unpaid and two weeks paid. We arrive at The Holiday Inn Downtown and I notice their ramp. It was very steep and narrow, but they made an effort. The Guy from the hotel van got out and started to put my chair together and another hotel employee came out and started to help. Funny thing everyone wants to jam the axle into the hole. I said no watch you push the button in, he said, OOOHHH….I had one of them push me up the ramp but not before I gave the Drive 10 Dirhams as a tip. He was very happy. Was that too much or to little? Approximately 100 USD converts to 400 Dirhams. So four bucks I guess? I always tip a lot if I can because I feel that when I am get service from a person we build a very close physical and intellectual relationship because of the chair and the chair becomes this mean of communication regardless of any language barrier. You must figure out how to put it together, or I must show someone how, and they are usually willing to help. I can tell who someone is right away when I see how they communicate and relate to the chair, to me, and me in the chair.
I enter the air-conditioned Lobby and this tall man already had my Hotel contract for my stay, he gives me a pen and asks me to sign. The rate went up from 400 Dirhams to 480 Dirhams per night. I asked him why and he said the rate on this paper is all inclusive tax and everything. I said 20% tax each night? He said yes. I said but don’t you guys tax at the end? He said no. I told him that wasn’t what I was quoted. Sometimes it’s best to pay the extra 100 bucks. Otherwise I would have to leave and search for a hotel at 11pm in a country I don’t know yet. So I agreed and made a note to email my Travel Agent when I got in the room. I had to pay 40 Dirhams and hour for internet service because the business office was closed. So the Guy at the desk took my signed contract, a bell man took my one carry-on, I took my red cheeks hot from the dry Dubai night air and we went up to the 3rd floor to my room.
My hotel room, 317, looked pretty accessible. Dubai is energy conscious, at least at The Holiday Inn Downtown. You must put your hotel card in a reader in order for the electric to come on. One of the hotel’s brochures boasts about Dubai’s City Electricity hardly ever going out. I noticed the bathroom had no shower bench and there was something else that reminded me exactly where I was: a simple white hose next to the toilet for washing your feet. I am in a tourist city, but the heart at this city beats Muslim and it is now Ramadan. I understood. I wanted to get smaller Dirhams so I wouldn’t run out. I asked the bell hop if he could wait a little for me to come down stairs for his tip. He said no problem Mam and he left. Mam here is their Madame. It is funny how in the U.S if you say Mam to a woman in her thirties she gets offended and says how she’s not that old. Here it is meant as a simple respectful term for all women, who do not speak their language.
I put my clothes out and set up some things I looked at my rosy cheeks in the mirror. I cleaned up a little I tried to wipe the British Airways recycled charm and air off my face and ventured down stairs to look around. Nothing much was in the lobby except the Guy from the front desk, a scary security guard with a blue Fischer Price walkie-talkie, and a concierge. I went back upstairs. I did some work, figured how much money I didn’t have and went to sleep.
I woke up and saw the clock read 7:43. The front desk Guy said Dubai was eight hours ahead of the U.S. Was that 7:43 pm or am? How long did I sleep for? It looked light out from my Holiday Inn bed. I called down to the front desk and a young woman answered she said it was 11:43am Mam. I said thank you. I got ready and looked at Dubai’s version of “Time Out”.
The sections in their “Time Out” weren’t as complex as New York’s or London’s especially in regards to theatre. In fact there was no theatre section. I found many ads for the Iftar: the Feast each night after Ramadan fasting and where you could get the best deal after sunset for your celebratory meal. There was an article that said many Fast Food Restaurants were marketing to Dubai’s Muslims offering them great deals to eat for cheap after sunset, but that this was not good because Dubai already has an Obesity problem.
I went to the Lobby to get a cab: this new security guard, very tiny and smiley and a new bell boy who possessed this giggle after he spoke to you. They tried hailing a cab for me. One pulled up as I was being helped by the concierge down the ramp and the cabbie looked at me and started yelling at them. All I understood was Petrol. The cabbie drove off screaming. Sad thing was he had a station wagon. My chair would have fit if he just took two minutes so I could show him how to take it apart. I wanted to go to the Dubai Museum and I figured out quick I wasn’t getting a cab, at least not this way. I looked at my scene partners; The Concierge, The Bell-Boy, and The Security Guard. They apologize but even in their broken English and my zero knowledge of Punjabi or Arabic, I looked at them and I said No petrol and then I pointed to my wheelchair and made a gesture saying no. I then smiled and said right, yeah? They hesitated and laughed and agreed with me. We all went back inside. The security guard helped me up the ramp as the bell boy ran around to open the door for me. For the next hour the concierge tried to get a cab for me. I noticed a female Dubai Tours Employee sitting quietly at a desk in the lobby. She sat at a wooden desk in front of this huge window curtain, or was it a curtain covering up a wall? I took her brochure for Desert Tours and City day/night tours. Basically you rent a driver for a few hours and they take you to a maximum of three places in Dubai for three hours. I asked her if there was anything around the hotel to go to and she said there was a mall a half a mile down the road. I decided to take a stroll. The bellboy wasn’t sure about this he said what if I need help what will happen? This time a nervous giggle of his followed his question I told him it is alright. I left for the mall.
I was upset I was in Dubai and I was going to the mall. I wanted to see the city but no cabs would stop for me. As I walked down the street people stopped and did triple takes. I know for Ramadan there is complete fasting, no alcohol, no loud music, no women can be scantily dressed, and no chewing gum or swearing. I wondered if my wheelchair was on the list. I got to the mall via the street since there sidewalks were constructed Tunis style-nicely bricked and paved but no curb cuts. This wasn’t to out of the ordinary. Many cars stopped for me to pass. As I went down the street I saw a man walking hand in hand with his daughter. She must have been five dressed in electric blue pants, heeled silver jellies, and a half shirt hanging off her shoulder. I wondered if she would get a ticket for being too young and too scantily dressed. I wanted to stop her and you know it’s Ramadan.
At the Mall it was like any other except 60% of the stores were closed for Ramadan. People sat at the food court with no food stations opened, some slept others just looked bored. I noticed all the shops selling these beautiful, hand made black Burkahs and scarves. The shops were expensive. All I needed was a pharmacy but that wouldn’t open until 7:30pm a young man behind the Information desk told me. I rolled around for an hour chillin’ then got tired and decided to head back to my temporary home. I noticed more and more people stared. One man followed close behind me and I tried to dip on him before he asked if I need help. I said no thanks smiled and kept going. I found myself rolling down the busy street this time into on-coming traffic, but I had no way of getting up on the curb. People stopped, some beeped at me, and others just kept going. The article in “Time Out” also warned people about speeding cars around sunset. It reminded tourists that people haven’t eaten for over twelve hours and they really want to get home.
As I wheeled back to the Holiday Inn Downtown something happened I will never forget. On a speaker somewhere in the distance, flooding the air as if the wind carried the sound was The Call to Prayer. There were no instruments in the background just a beautiful voice and he would sing then there would be silence and then he would sign again. I pulled over in my chair wedged myself safely between a parked car and a curb and fumbled for my new 99.00USD camcorder the Radio Shack guy in New York told me was for college students and their friends. I tried to figure out how to press record and I couldn’t. I then pulled out my digital camera. I wanted to capture this beautiful voice above me in the sunny clear sky. People walked by staring, I started to film the sky and the prayer with my camera and then I stopped. I put it away. That was rude to do. Beautiful moments like this don’t have to be recorded with some camera I thought. I didn’t want to draw anymore attention to myself. I just listened. And then it stopped. I told myself I would write the experience down later. And I have. It will always be a positive memory of a Dubai Afternoon.
I went back to my hotel and went to book a dune buggy tour but exchanged it for a three hour drive to The Gold City. The lobby shift had changed; new employees. Hello Dubai? It’s Blair from America. I’m going to sleep.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hello British Airways? It's Blair from America.....

Two BA Flights & My Right to Do
British Airways Flight Number: 182- 10/1/07 7pm-JFK Arrival Heathrow

I am flying to London Heathrow from New York. I get to JFK Int’l Airport and stand in line to check in. Nothing that crazy happens, a young red-headed man faints next to me in line. But he seemed okay. JFK must not have heard everyone’s screams for EMS or a doctor. Ten minutes later they brought him an airport wheelchair and rolled him away somewhere. I never saw him again.
It is now my turn to check-in. At the counter.
Scene: Four BA Agents visible. One young white woman behind the counter helping me check in. She has to ask a supervisor if it is okay to take my chair apart and put it in the closet on the plane. She leaves. She returns with the Middle Eastern Male Supervisor. He says it is okay but my wheelchair must still be tagged as baggage and I have to ask the CDC advisor at the gate if it is okay. He then asks me at the check-in counter with at least ten people in earshot if I can go to the bathroom on my own. I looked at him and said yes. He started to get defensive and said he has to ask it is policy. I said to him “asking someone if they can go on their own is pretty personal-“ He again was defensive and started to flex slightly, he said we have to ask and if you can’t go on your own you can’t fly with us: especially if you don’t have someone with you. This in combination with the young woman checking me in and asking if I can walk out loud, in front of everyone at the check-in counter, was not only humiliating but I started to wonder if there was a better way to handle these questions. I asked the supervisor if there is another way and he said no he has to ask just like he did. So there, take that. And he walked away back to his Supervising.

After check-in and a Body Cavity Search….

The Duty Free Zone: My skirt got caught in my caster. I had to get into the ladies room to fix it and find the handicapped stall which was taped shut with garbage bags. As I took by bags off my lap and adjusted my skirt everyone was watching in the bathroom and it was very quiet. I was oddly on stage Reverend Billy Style. This odd British woman came up behind me after she washed her hands right next to me, right in my back space and said, I saw your skirt was caught, I was going to help you. I said I don’t need your help, thank you, and I left the bathroom. She followed eerily close behind me, then we were doing that odd “I Don’t Know You Side By Side Walk” and I went the opposite way out of the restroom.

Young Pakistani Man at T.Fax Exchange window told me it would be okay to go to Pakistan, there is a lot of Military, but safe. Be careful of the cabbies ripping you off, they play off each other and also he said don’t take public transportation.

I got to the Gate for my flight to London and another British Airways employee approached my in a crowded waiting area and asked me the same question about the bathroom. I asked her if this was policy, to do this questioning in public, isn’t she afraid someone may be a lawyer or a journalist? She shrugged nonchalantly and said that it is policy and the law, British Airways has to ask. She said she had a woman come on board and lie about having a miscarriage and she would have bled all over the plane. She said people lie. I asked again if having this conversation is better in privacy or maybe the Airline can adopt a new system of discretion. Like a paper questionnaire at check-in? She said she was being quiet, no one was looking at us. I turned around and there were passengers sitting on the floor two feet away from my wheelchair. I said, they don’t have to be looking at us to hear us. She said she has to ask and this is the way they do it. So as long as I can go to the bathroom on my own and I tell them if I can stand up or not then I can travel on my own. I reminded her again that I have done this many times and never once have I been asked publicly if I can go to the bathroom on my own. She said the people in the past weren’t doing their jobs correctly then. She walked away. I smiled and said thank you and wrote down our conversation.

My wheelchair made it on board. I was told you never know with the crew, they might be okay with it they might not. This crew was okay with me putting my wheelchair in the closet. The aisle chair was hard to move me in so they put me in a World Traveler Seat. Seemed they weren’t booked. The seats were very nice. They pulled out into a bed. I slept.

When the plane landed and all the passengers got off I had to wait an additional fifteen minutes to get off this BA flight in order to catch my connecting BA flight to Dubai. I waited. And as I waited for someone to get me into an aisle chair I noticed Flight Attendants leaving the plane, putting on perfume, gossiping. Finally one Flight Attendant came over and I told her I had to catch a connecting flight. She went herself and got me into an aisle chair. I was then escorted to the next gate.

Again I encountered the Maybe/Maybe Not of the Wheelchair on Board Campaign. The Flight Attendant at the gate said she would ask but it was up to the crew if they wanted to let me put my chair in the closet, if not it would go under the plane as baggage.

And then there is the bathroom on board this flight to Dubai. I was in Coach, had a whole row to myself. But when I asked to go to the rest room two Flight Attendants came over and asked if I needed help in the bathroom. Before I answered I wondered if anyone communicated with each other about this bathroom question. So I said no, I said I will ask for help if I need it and I can do everything on my own, just get me the aisle chair. They still tried to lift me as I transferred which I told them politely I could do myself. Getting into the bathroom is impossible. I twisted both ankles. American Airlines has “Handicapped” bathrooms by First Class. You can put the aisle chair besides the toilet and transfer inside the bathroom or stay in the aisle chair. I asked the BA employee if they had a bigger bathroom on the plane he looked puzzled, said there was a longer stall in the back. I thought, cool, maybe that one would work better than having to do a 360 each time I am in the bathroom. After I sat down in my seat in Coach I heard a female Flight Attendant in the Galley behind me ask him what I said, he told her and she said the bathroom we just used is fine-but with a “what is she complaining about/how dare she ask” tone.

Interestingly enough there was a closet that had two small carry-ons in it right across from my seat. This closet was deep and very empty, except for the two small carry-ons. It was big enough to fit my wheelchair if you took it apart. I didn’t understand why there is such a hassle to put my wheelchair on board when there was room right by my seat-behind row 36 on British Airways Flight #107 to Dubai.


The stress level is immense when you have people publicly asking you personal questions a doctor wouldn’t ask in a public place because he would be violating your right to privacy. Do you give up that right once you desire or need to fly if you are in a wheelchair? And why should a wheelchair user have to cross their fingers that the crew is in a good mood in order to get their chair on board when there is space available? Also is it really the law that gives British Airways the permission to ask publicly those very personal questions? And one last question for British Airways, where is it in the safety video demonstration or the manual in your seat pocket that explains what would happen if I needed to get off the plane in case of an emergency?

I decided not to ask the last question. I didn’t want to stress out anyone working that airline today. I had suffered enough silently and I know how it feels to be put on the spot.

I am now in Dubai. People are friendly, my hotel rate got jacked up 80 AED but who is complaining. It is hot here. October 3rd 2am.