Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adventures with Ankles - Part 5 The End of the Adventure

The trip back to the ship

Melissa and I had no visas for India, but we very much wanted to meet the ship there, because if we didn’t, there were four sea days before it reached Malaysia, its next port.  I had heard that in India, red tape is tangled around everything, and it’s true.  Melissa spent days, the surgeon who is Indian made several phone calls on our behalf, the hospital administrator spent several hours each day helping us, (and it took three days of concentrated effort), Faiz drove Melissa from place to place, and we were still lucky to get the In Transit visa on time.

Melissa told me the steps she took were full of paper she needed to pick up from one place which closed five minutes after she was told she needed that paper, and then the place that needed the paper assured her nothing more was required, but the next day needed another form signed which she had to pick up somewhere else, and take to get stamped in another place before she signed it and returned it, and, well, you get the idea.

Even with my surgeon, and two other doctors who also made calls on our behalf, and all the other people helping, it still took her at least eight trips to the consulate to get the visas done.

Finally, though, we handed over our passports, the visas were attached, and we were ready to leave.

We’d hoped to reach Mumbai in time to reboard the ship there, but due to full flights (we couldn’t book until we had the visas) and scheduling, we could only reach the city after the ship left, and so needed to fly to the ship’s next and last port in India – Goa.  It turned out that flying from Male to Goa required three separate flights.

The Maldives is a chain of over 1,000 islands, some so small that they can support only a single palm tree – your typical desert island.  About 120 are large enough for people to live on.  The highest point on any island is only 2.4 meters above sea level, and the average height is 1.5 meters.  Given that scientists are predicting that climate change could result in a rise in sea level of up to one meter, the people here are very concerned about their future.

The airport is situated a close water taxi ride from Male.  It actually consists of three islands, with the area between them build up with landfill.  During the drive from the hospital to the water taxi, I saw a bit of the town.  Narrow alleys, busy streets with many motorcycles and some cars.  Driving was chaotic, and they told me in the hospital that there are frequent injuries of pedestrians and passengers, especially at night when many of the young men like to race down the narrow alleys.  Some roads were two lanes in each direction, but people treated the lane marks as guidelines.

All the women I saw outside wore a hijab and long pants and shirts, and some wore full body robes.  In general among the people I saw, only maybe 15 to 20% were women.  Sometimes a woman was a passenger on a motorcycle, but I never saw a woman driving one.

Again, remember that I saw only a few minutes worth of the town, and so my observations might not be valid for the larger population.

Getting from the car to the water taxi involved going up a large step, a smaller step onto a sidewalk, and then the same in reverse onto the other side.  Much to the befuddlement of the people around, I did this on my butt, which was the only way I could see would work.  Other people helped hand the suitcase to people on the boat, and it all went smoothly.  When we arrived at the airport, I rode for a while on a luggage cart, until someone there brought me a wheelchair.

During the whole trip, men were upset when I or Melissa wouldn’t let them help, as we were two women traveling alone and so were supposed to need men to help us.  I quickly learned, though, that the men who wanted to help didn’t always know how to push a wheelchair without bumping my foot into things or steering so that other people rushing by didn’t brush it.  During the trip it got jostled a lot, and so became very sensitive.  Melissa and I decided, after I’d been jammed into an elevator too small to take me with my leg held out straight (due to the break below my knee, I can’t bend the knee very much at all), that at each time a new situation arose, we would insist on stopping to assess and then make our own decision about what was best.  This meant my doing all stairs on my butt, but that was fine.

We’d let the airlines know that I couldn’t bend my knee and so couldn’t sit in an economy class seat.  I’d tried to book business class, but was told all the flights were full.  I was told at check in that I’d get a bulkhead row.

I was wheeled to the first flight, and asked how I’d get on the plane, because I could see that there were no jetways here.  The man pushing me smiled and said there was a special truck. Sure enough, there was big truck that looked like a panel truck.  It had a platform on the back that I was wheeled onto, which rose until I could enter the truck bed, which was a room with enough space for at least eight wheelchairs.  This whole thing now rose until it was level with the plane’s door.  I asked if this truck was usually used to transfer food or something needed in the passenger area of the plane, but was told this was its sole purpose.

If you ever get the chance to fly SriLankan air, do it.  This is the most comfortable and pleasant airline I’ve been on.  The chief flight attendant, called the purser for some reason on some airlines, met me when I boarded, ready to bring out the special wheelchair they keep on board that is narrow enough to fit in the aisle between seats, but it was easy for me to hop along with the seat backs to hold on to.  He was unhappy when he saw where I was seated, said he had something better, and showed me to the row of seats in the center of the plane, right behind business class.  This was a big plane, with two seats on either side and four in the middle.  Sitting on the end of the four, the business class aisle connected to the one next to me and, as it was wider, I could place my leg out straight.  The foot was in the business class area, but that wasn’t a problem, and once Melissa piled pillows they brought us, I could rest the leg quite comfortably.

The other flight attendants were all female, and they wore saris that had ruffles added to them to look like aprons.

The whole four seats were empty, and the purser told me that they always tried to keep them unbooked, because they got injured people on the flight fairly regularly.  He was a lovely person, interesting to talk to, and he made sure we were comfortable during the whole flight.        

He was worried about us for the next flight, also SriLankan, because it was a smaller plane and so didn’t have the sort of seat I was in.  From what I could see of business class, there was enough leg room there, and he kindly phoned to see if there was a seat available.  There were two in fact, but again the red tape, because  since I’d booked that section on economy class, he couldn’t make me a reservation.  I could change my ticket in the airport, though.

The next stop was Columbo, Sri Lanka.  We asked about upgrading and were told the flight was full.  I knew it wasn’t, though, and couldn’t figure out what was going on.  It was only after much time, when I realized that the airline thought I wanted a free upgrade, that I mentioned I would pay for the upgrade.  After that, everything was arranged quickly and easily.  I’m a bit surprised, though, that even though they knew I couldn’t bend my knee, they wouldn’t offer the upgrade for free, given my situation.  Anyway, things worked out.

At each airport I was met by a person with a wheelchair.  The first flight had a jetway for me to get off, but there were only stairs to get on and off the other two flights.  Each also required a shuttle bus, and I did my butt thing to get on and off the bus.  When we arrived at each plane, some men were there expecting to carry me in my wheel chair up the stairs to the plane, but I insisted on doing it my way, which worked fine.

To give you another idea of how male dominant the society in both the Maldives and India were, in Mumbai airport there was an immigration area that listed the usual categories, you know, crew, citizens, internationals .  One desk, though, was labeled ‘Unaccompanied Minors and Ladies.’   Melissa and I had to be insistent to be allowed to do things the ways we knew would work best, but other than that, everyone was very helpful.  One wheelchair pusher even arranged for us to spent the wait between flights in the fancy lounge, which we were entitled to once we were business class, but hadn’t thought about .

We had to book the flight to Goa once we arrived in Mumbai, but we received help there, too.  We did tip most of the people who pushed the chair and assisted us, but I think that, with one exception, they would have been as helpful without.

We left Male at six in the evening, and arrived at the ship around ten the next morning.  We didn’t sleep at all during the trip, and were very happy to see the ship, as you can imagine.

So now I’m back, and the foot continues to improve a little more each day.. All is well, or as well as can be expected.  I’m actually feeling good enough to feel frustrated at my dependence and lack of mobility.  I’ve started doing laps on the Promenade deck to build up my arm strength and get some exercise.  While in port, I will also practice with the crutches, so I can become comfortable enough with them and not need the wheelchair so much.

Melissa continues to be a great assistant and, as some passengers have pointed out, this is her great opportunity to push me around.  I’m writing this last bit on Thursday, the 18th, and have given one writing class and run two book club meetings.  They have gone well, and so life is becoming as normal as possible.

  Thank you for following this adventure along with me.  I hope you appreciate the lengths to which I’ve gone to have something interesting to blog about!  And now that this is done, I can get back to the really interesting stuff – the wildlife I saw in Africa.     

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Judy, you sure had to go through an ordeal with all the pain in the hospital and getting on and off the planes !! Thank goodness you have Melissa with you.. I am glad to hear you are on the mend and back on the ship. I have been doing some quilting, I went to Blackstrap twice since you have been gone, once for one day workshop and again for a weekend retreat. Kathy R put up with my snoring that time!!
    Well take care and enjoy..SMB