I set off on my travels to the NIH. Armed with my pink bags and my white cane I set off in a taxi to the airport. Once I got there I though I wouldn’t need any assistance from the driver as the information desk is near Starbucks. I walked into the airport and sniffed out the coffee (I can find a Starbucks anywhere!). I got to the ‘desk’ only to find it had vanished but I did find a nice man hiding behind an x ray machine who called the duty manager. The duty manager came and helped me check in and took me to get some breakfast. On the way we were passing through the shop and two women were deciding what alcohol to buy I said ‘I can’t believe they are thinking about alcohol at 4.30am!’ and the duty manager replied that the bar was open and people were drinking pints. It took me a while to stomach my cup of tea let alone a pint! The first flight was very uneventful and the staff were very helpful to me including the man who was very excited as he was allowed to take me to the plane and he hadn’t been allowed out of the terminal building before. Bless him.
I arrived at Paris to be greeted with my own personal mini bus which I was man handled on to and off. Luckily I escaped the wheelchair and was taken to the departure gate. I was only allowed to nip to the loo and buy water before I was told to sit where I was and they would come back to me. I paid for internet access and Skyped Graham which was lovely and passed the time quickly. As time got on I started thinking it sounded rather quiet for a large flight. I tried to use my monocular to look at the screen but it just wasn’t strong enough for me to see. In the end I asked a member of airport staff who said ‘It’s at gate 62. It’s down there.’ I told him that I was blind and I couldn’t find the gate and the assistance hadn’t come for me. He replied that he couldn’t help. I started walking in the direction he told me as I had 20 minutes before the flight took off. Eventually I came to some shops and had no idea which way to go and by this time was obviously very anxious and had started to cry. I went in the first shop I found and the man said ‘What is the matter?’ I explained and he said he would help me. As we were walking quickly/jogging he kept telling me to stop crying. By the time I got to the gate I had started to shake and so was put in a wheelchair and wheeled to the plane. The staff were apologetic about it and I couldn’t fault the staff on the flight who told me what my food was and put my hands on it and told me how to call them and where the toilets were.
It knocked my confidence terribly and when a wheelchair was foisted upon me at Dulles airport I submissively climbed in. The bus to customs was strange. It was like a big lorry with windows that moves up and down a bigger version of the wheelchair assistance lorries but everyone gets on. It took ages to find my bag and once we got out the lady phoned the NIH transportation desk but a cab was going to take the same amount of time as the shuttle. I was upset that I may be left alone and didn’t know where I was and explained to the lady on the phone I don’t know what she said to my assistant but she stayed until I got on the shuttle 1 hour later.
I got to the lodge tired and weepy and deeply home sick. I wasn’t given any help around the lodge about how to get to my room so that was a mission in itself. I went to sleep at 8pm after being up for around 20 hours.