Team Talk - Paula: Must be 'cause I'm special
The first time I travelled in a wheelchair I was terrified. It was only from Christchurch to Napier but they put me in the glass enclosed lift thing, like the pope-mobile, very understated and incognito… NOT! More like; totally humiliating.
Fast forward 6 years and it’s; DO NOT get in my way.
Having already visited Palestine in a chair in 2013, I was, I thought, a seasoned vet. Back then I was the subject of a doco where I was searching for a cure for my Transverse Myelitis. When the cure for my paralysis remained undiscovered, the trip to Palestine was then touted as the “Life Goes On” booby prize part of the doco. Hmmmm.
In 2013 I also traveled with my then 13 year old daughter, Ebony.
I’ve just got to stop and say here, that I find it amazing, you know? When people see the wheelchair they immediately assume that I can neither talk, hear, basically communicate - oh, and they all speak to me like I’m stupid. Now layer it over traveling through multiple international airports and then understand that all conversation is being directed to my unsuspecting child, who, more than anything else was embarrassed that these people were asking her about her mother’s capabilities.
Not used to being “ignored”, but still at the stage where I felt self conscious, it took about the 5th inquiry to my child “can she walk to the plane door?”, before I actually piped up and said, “ask me [insert expletives here]!!?”.
After that first time asserting myself, it was game on.
Now fast-forward to our first He Ao Kotahi group trip to Palestine. Me, Tamara, Shirley and Ash.
There are no such things as queues at airports when you’re in a wheelchair. Something that my colleagues could not comprehend until they became the, “Yes, we’re all travelling together” guys. This was awesome, mostly because they looked hilarious waddling on behind me. loaded up to the eyeballs with the excess luggage, pretty much all of it mine.
Everything was hassle-free until, of course, the thickness of the heat that up and smacked us in the face when we hit Jordan. From there it was sensory overload, smells, sounds and people and the King Hussein bridge crossing that took us into Israel.
In Israel we got no help at all from anyone as I tried to manoeuvre myself off the bus (I’ve always wondered what giant people these bus steps were made for). Although it was entertaining watching Ash’s little stint of trying to stop the bus because he thought he dropped his passport, that Shirley actually had.
Our luggage gets taken and put…somewhere... and we head up to the first customs booth. Here we are faced with a uniformed soldier, a ‘not more than 20’ year-old girl, chewing gum and seriously lacking in the customer services department. She looks us over, throws our passports back at us and gestures to the “others” group over by the next booth.
The Palestinians are separated from us, “others”, and we watch as they are mocked, harassed, and herded like cattle. That, or just blatantly ignored. Our group then moves to the next booth, to the side, “internationals”.
We are surrounded by Palestinians just sitting, quietly waiting. Old people, women, children, teens, all sitting and waiting calmly, knowing this is just how it is. They might be calm, but it’s people like us who are agitated.
“Who are your parents?”, I’m pretty sure you’re not going to know them.
“Who are your grandparents?” Now I know you won’t know them.
“Why are you here? Who are you visiting? Are you going to visit the West Bank? Do you have friends here? Who are they? Why are you here. Rinse. Repeat.
Now, I’m touched by their interest but when they set me aside, take my brace off (which I can’t walk without) and make me wait and I wait and they sit and stare and laugh amongst themselves? Let’s be honest and say I’m starting to get a little pissed.
And then they demand that I get out of my chair and walk through the metal detector.
They have taken my crutches and my brace and now they want me to get out of my chair. What do you think, Einstein? By now, Im seriously fucked off. I motion to Shirley and Tamara to come over, and with one under each arm, they help guide me through the metal detector, all while the representatives from the State of Israel watch on in confusion and disinterest.
I’m then told to wheel into a room where I watch them take my wheelchair apart. They don’t go over it though. Just take it apart and then walk out, leaving me there.
Welcome to Israel.